A deathbed will is a set of oral instructions given by the dying party to someone else in the room. That person then becomes, in some cases, the only one who knows what that person wanted to happen with their estate.

But that’s not the only time when an oral will may be used. Someone could give an oral will to a friend or family member even long before they pass away. They may say they don’t want to go through the legal process of writing and filing a will, but they want someone to know their wishes. Many states do not allow the use of these wills, but Massachusettes does for mariners and soldiers in active duty.

As you can imagine, though, these wills are fairly problematic and they often do not hold up in court. It is wise to get any legal document in writing.

An oral will may also make it more likely that there will be a dispute. A written will is harder to challenge — though it is possible — and can help avoid disputes.

For instance, imagine that a person has two siblings. The elderly person is with one of them at the time that they pass away. That person claims to have been given an oral will leaving them the majority of the assets, while leaving less to their sibling.

That sibling may then challenge the will on the grounds that it seems like the other person either altered the will or made it up entirely for their own financial gain. With no witnesses, it’s impossible to know for sure, but the fact that the only person who happened to hear the will is also the person getting most of the assets is bound to raise a few red flags.

To avoid issues like this, just find out what estate planning steps you need to take to get the official plan in place.