Holographic Wills: Criteria for Handwritten Wills

Only about a third of adult Americans have a will, let alone a comprehensive estate plan. Yet not all wills are made equal. Some wills are more “effective” than others, and some wills, despite their best intentions, might never be validated. Some wills are valid in certain states and completely useless in others. One of these contentious wills is the holographic will, also known as a handwritten will.

Handwritten wills are valid in most states but under specific requirements. They’re also incredibly limited in certain states – New York, for example, will only accept a handwritten will from someone in the Armed Forces.

Understanding the different types of wills can help you prepare your estate plan and ensure that you set the right contingencies for any potential invalidation of your last instructions and final wishes.

What is a Holographic Will?

A holograph is not to be confused with a hologram. Holographic wills are handwritten, meaning every single word and letter is written in ink, on paper, by the same hand, ideally on the same day. Linguistically, a holograph is something written entirely by hand, from the words holos (whole, complete) and graphein (writing).

This is very important because a holographic will can only be accepted by a court if there exists enough evidence to prove that the document was entirely written and signed by the person who wrote it, i.e., the testator.

To that end, holographic wills are only valid when supporting documents can be provided as samples of the same handwriting and through the expertise of a handwriting expert supplied by the state. Some of the other requirements of a holographic will include:

  • The writing of the will must indicate that it is a will and not a draft or preliminary list of will-related ideas.
  • The writing of the will must explicitly describe each item it wishes to bequeath and identify each beneficiary.
  • The testator must sign the will (and, in some states, dated) (i.e., the will’s author).

Holographic Wills vs. Valid Wills

Wills have been around for centuries, and the laws that dictate inheritance have changed considerably over time and date back many generations. So technically, most wills in human history were written by hand.

Now, it’s essential not to forget that typewriters are relatively modern inventions, let alone computers and laser jet printers.

That said, there’s an essential distinction between a holographic will, a valid will, or a notarized one. You can write a will by hand and have it witnessed by at least two other people before signing it and handing it over to a public notary. This will would be valid, not a holographic will, despite being wholly handwritten.

The term “holographic will” is exclusive to wills that have not been witnessed and notarized but are at least written entirely by hand and thus potentially still provable.

Where Are Holographic Wills Valid?

As mentioned, holographic wills are only a given in some states. Only the following states allow holographic wills to be considered in a probate process:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Idaho
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New York (from members of the Armed Forces, under certain circumstances)
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming

Most states require that handwritten wills are written by hand in their entirety – but some states allow wills that utilize a printed template but have all provisions written in by hand. This means the printed page would still read “Last Will and Testament” in typeface, along with certain pro forma text, but all relevant details (as to who gets what and how) must be written and signed by hand.

Some states, such as California, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, and Nevada, require that holographic wills are dated and signed rather than just signed.

If you own properties in multiple states, having a holographic will may complicate things. A few states accept holographic wills from other states (such as Connecticut, Hawaii, and Washington). In contrast, only a few other states accept a holographic will during an ancillary probate process for out-of-state properties.

Who Needs a Holographic Will?

Holographic wills tend to be written spontaneously rather than as part of a legitimate estate plan. They’re commonly used in life-or-death situations or when a person is in imminent danger and has a few parting words to write down.

Holographic wills are thus most frequently used in the probate process of deceased soldiers and other Armed Forces members who write them on the battlefield.

What Happens Without a Will?

Like any other will, the courts can render a holographic will invalid. If a will does not meet the state’s requirements or does not accept handwritten wills – and no older alternative exists, such as a previously printed and notarized valid will that the holographic will was meant to replace – then the decedent will have died intestate.

This means that they have died without a will, and thus, a probate court will distribute their belongings as per the state’s local intestacy laws, including the succession laws.

These are a little different from state to state. Still, it means that the estate will be divided and distributed among the next of kin in a particular order – usually among the surviving spouse and children first, spouse and parents if there are no children, spouse, and siblings if there are no surviving parents, and so on.

Setting Up Your Own Estate Plan

You don’t need a grand estate plan to avoid the rigidity of intestate succession. A straightforward, personalized will can ensure that your belongings are distributed how you want them to be. But a little bit of estate planning goes a long way. Contact an estate planning professional at Werner Law, serving those in Bakersfield, Encino, and Lancaster.

For example, smaller estates in California can utilize a special affidavit to shorten the probate process and speed up the inheritance significantly. If your total estate is just beyond the limit for a small estate, you can use certain tricks to reduce the total value of your estate while ensuring that every item goes to your loved ones and so on.

Holographic Wills: Criteria for Handwritten Wills - Werner Law Firm

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