Are handwritten wills, also known as holographic wills, legally valid?
Usually, when people think about creating a will or a trust, they envision a formal event involving witnesses, a lawyer, and maybe a notary. A handwritten will seems almost too easy. What's to stop someone from creating a fake will and signing your name?
Actually, the idea is that because the will is in the will maker's own handwriting, it is inherently more trustworthy in some ways. So, how is a holographic or handwritten will different from a typed-out will? Is writing a will by hand easier than having a lawyer draft one for you?
General Requirements for Handwritten Wills
In general, a typed-out will usually requires the signature of two witnesses to make it a legally valid document. By comparison, in some states, handwritten wills require no witnesses for the will to be valid.
Of course, laws vary from state to state, so looking up your state's statutes on wills is essential to ensure that your will is valid.
For example, in some states, a holographic will must be entirely in the will maker's own handwriting for it to be valid, and must include certain things like a dated signature; a printed form with blanks that you fill in (like this sample will) may not automatically be valid unless there are witnesses, like with a regular will. However, other states will allow a partially handwritten will to be valid without witnesses, under certain conditions.
Creating a completely handwritten will can also add some complications into the mix. Some probate judges may be hesitant to recognize handwritten wills because they are difficult to verify, as they do not have any witnesses who can attest to the will.
And while creating a handwritten will may seem to simplify the process, it can actually make things more difficult when you are dealing with a large number of assets. Trying to make changes to a handwritten will by crossing things out, for example, can also create confusion and lead to drawn-out court battles, long after the will maker has passed.
How to Avoid Problems With a Handwritten Will
When putting together a will on your own, handwritten or not, there are some ways to make sure it will hold up in court. It's often wise to consult an experienced wills lawyer who can look it over, but many are uncomfortable with just reviewing and "signing off" on wills that they didn't personally draft. And if you need to make changes, or have more questions later on, you'll be paying for those additional services.
Another option is to sign up for a personal legal plan, some of which offer basic will-drafting and reviewing services. These plans can be affordable too: LegalStreet, for example, works out to just $12.50 a month and includes an annual will review and updates, along with unlimited access to on-call local attorneys who can help with many other legal issues.
Bottom line: A handwritten will can raise many legal questions, but they can be valid, depending on the circumstances. To learn more about wills, check out FindLaw's free Guide to Writing a Will and click on the links below.
Disclosure: LegalStreet and FindLaw.com are owned by the same company.