26th Jan 2024
This is a series celebrating the unexpected legal issues that come up while watching everyone’s favorite talking Great Dane – Scooby-Doo. I grew up watching these shows as a kid. Watching them back with my my kids as an attorney often adds another layer of enjoyment. If you have questions about estates and related issues in Oklahoma. Or you just wanna talk some Scooby-Doo. Reach out to me directly: CoryHicks@FieldAndHicks.com
Background for this Issue
In Season 1, Episode 16 “A Night of Fright is No Delight” of Scooby-Doo Where, Where Are You!, the “eccentric millionaire” Colonel Beauregard Sanders has died. As the episode opens, Velma reads aloud in the newspaper that the decedent left One Million Dollars to four relatives and a dog named Scooby-Doo in his Last Will and Testament. The decedent put Scooby-Doo in his Will because Scooby-Doo had saved his life previously. The Mystery Inc. gang is heading on a boat on a stormy night to the decedent’s creepy castle to hear the the “Reading of the Will.”
Once at the decedent’s mansion, Cosgood Creeps states that he is the attorney for the decedent. He puts on an old school black, vinyl record on an record player. The voice that comes out is that of Colonel Beauregard Sanders, while alive, stating his last wishes when dead.
Issue: Can an Audio Recording Be a Will?
Can an audio recording act as a Last Will and Testament? Does it matter the type of recording or medium? That is, does a prepared vinyl record like Scooby encountered matter more or less than an audio clip stored on a modern smart phone?
In short, under Oklahoma law, the answer to all these questions is: no.
This issue is similar to a question that arose during the Anne Heche estate: can an email act as a Will (read more about that here)?
Why is this? Basically, in Oklahoma law, a valid Last Will and Testament must fall into one of three categories: a) a traditional Will (following established rules about signing, witnesses, etc.); b) a holographic or handwritten Will (more on that here); or c) a nuncupative Will (which is an extremely rare type related to military service and a limited amount).
An audio recording does not fall into one of these three categories. Neither does an email. Neither does a lot of other examples you can think of – from videos to social media posts.
Lesson 1: Get Estate Planning Done Right
Consult with an experienced, competent attorney. Whether you have a Will-centered or Trust-centered plan, make sure you get it done right and your plan works like you want it to.
As we see from this Scooby-Doo episode, you can come up with something something thorough and sincere and epic like making a recorded Will like Colonel Beauregard Sanders. But in the end it will not work – because it is not legally valid. And if it does not work, it is not good planning and not a good idea.
Lesson 2: What Should Modern Law Be?
I’ve explained above what is the basic law in Oklahoma regarding valid Last Will and Testaments. But what should be the law and policy going forward? In the modern world are there other reliable methods that the law should allow? Should the law be changing with technology? Or should the law stick with the older, tried and true methods?
These are interesting debates society and its representatives will have in the future. Scooby was facing them long ago.