What is a holographic will? It is a last will and testament that is handwritten. Here's what to know if you have questions about holographic wills.
If you’re wondering what a holographic will is, the first thing you need to know is that a will, or last will and testament, is a document that describes how you would like all of your assets and property to be distributed after your death. A holographic will is a handwritten will that you write and sign yourself.
A standard, traditional will is a legal document that delegates how you would like all of your assets and belongings to be distributed after you pass away. Unlike a holographic will, most wills typically are not handwritten and follow a format that complies with state laws with a set of basic components, including:
On the other hand, a holographic will is a handwritten document that expresses how you would like your assets and belongings to be distributed after you pass away. Unlike a will that a lawyer drafts, holographic wills are typically not witnessed or notarized.
Although most wills are witnessed and notarized to ensure their validity, this does not always happen – some people overlook this step. On the other hand, holographic wills are typically not witnessed or notarized, but they can be.
If you are wondering how to write a holographic will, it is important to understand what needs to be included to make your holographic will valid. You should also be aware that different states require different components for a holographic will to be valid, so be sure to confirm what the rules are in your state.
In general, though, for a holographic will to be valid, it must:
Note that there must also be evidence that the handwriting in a holographic will is in fact yours. The authenticity of the handwriting can be confirmed by relatives or others who are capable of identifying your handwriting, or by an expert in handwriting analysis.
As mentioned above, holographic wills are often not witnessed or notarized. While a holographic will does not always need to be witnessed or notarized, there may be difficulty in proving the will’s validity in probate court if it is not. The main reason wills–holographic or otherwise–often require witnesses is that if the will is contested in probate court, those witnesses can testify to the will’s validity. For this reason, not all states accept holographic wills as legally valid.
Although holographic wills often aren't witnessed or notarized, they can be. If a holographic will is witnessed, it is less likely that the will’s validity will later be contested. This is also true for traditional (non-holographic) wills – although they are often witnessed and notarized, this does not happen in every case. Traditional wills that are not witnessed may also be contested.
Holographic wills are not accepted by all states, and some states accept holographic wills only to varying degrees. Additionally, keep in mind that each state has its own laws governing the treatment of wills generally, whether holographic or not.
States that accept holographic wills as valid legal documents include:
In other states, holographic wills written within the state are not accepted, but holographic wills are accepted if they were written within the borders of states that accept them as legally valid under what’s called a foreign wills provision.
States with this type of foreign wills provision include:
For example, if you write a holographic will in Texas (where holographic wills are valid) but pass away in Alabama, then Alabama will recognize your will as valid. This is true even though Alabama would not actually recognize a holographic will written within Alabama.
In New York, holographic wills are only recognized and accepted if they are made by a member of the Armed Forces. Additionally, the holographic will is only valid for one year after the testator is discharged or one year after the testator regains the capacity to write a will, whichever happens first.
Maryland also only accepts holographic wills if they are made by a member of the Armed Forces. Holographic wills made in Maryland are only valid for one year after the testator is discharged, unless they are no longer of sound mind (and incapable of understanding that they are making a will) at that time.
A holographic will may sound like an appealing option due to its simplicity and the avoided cost of paying an estate planning lawyer to write your will. But there are serious shortcomings and limitations to holographic wills, and hiring an estate planning lawyer to draft your will may help you avoid some of these limitations.
Overall, estate planning is important, so it is generally better to have a holographic will than to not have a will at all. But mistakes in creating a holographic will can impact whether your final wishes are fulfilled.
It’s important to understand these tradeoffs when considering whether to draft a holographic will.
Some of the potential shortcomings of holographic wills include:
As mentioned, holographic wills are typically not witnessed or notarized. After the testator has passed away, it can be difficult to navigate questions about a holographic will's validity if there are no witnesses available to testify that the will reflects the testator's intentions.
Similarly, a testator must be “of sound mind” when writing a will. This means that you can understand that you are writing a last will and testament, and that you intend for the document to be a will. Without witnesses, it may be difficult to prove that you were not unduly influenced by someone who sought assets that you might not have freely intended to give to them.
Additionally, because holographic wills are handwritten, they generally require evidence to prove that the handwriting is in fact the testator’s handwriting. Problems with interpretation may also arise if the handwriting on the will is difficult to read or if the language is vague.
As mentioned, not all states accept holographic wills, and many others only accept them in certain circumstances. State laws can also change, so if the state you write a holographic will in changes its laws and no longer accepts holographic wills, your will would no longer be valid.
Additionally, if you created your holographic will in a state that accepts them but move to a different state that does not accept holographic wills, your will might no longer be valid.
It is generally easier to make mistakes when creating a holographic will than when drafting a more formal will. Illegible handwriting, errors, or vague language can all call a will’s validity into question. Any mistakes in your holographic will can have long-term impacts on the distribution of your assets.
On the other hand, wills created by estate planning attorneys are generally more reliable, which can help ensure that your last wishes are fulfilled. (And keep in mind, there are online tools for drafting wills that provide a do-it-yourself option without limiting yourself to a handwritten will).
When deciding whether you want to write a holographic will or hire an estate planning attorney to draft your will for you, it is worth considering the pros and cons of creating a holographic will.
Benefits of creating a holographic will include:
Limitations of a holographic will compared to a will created by an attorney:
To be clear, lawyers can make mistakes, too. And not all traditional wills have witnesses. So it is certainly true that non-holographic wills (including those created with the assistance of attorneys) can also be contested.
But generally speaking, if you are in a position to hire an estate planning lawyer, doing so can increase the chances that any will you create is valid and that your wishes are fulfilled.
So, if you do draft a handwritten will, what should be in a holographic will?
As with all wills, a holographic will must clearly and explicitly state the beneficiaries and what assets each will receive. To avoid potential issues later, it is important to be clear and concise when delegating your assets. It is also important to name the executor, the person who will carry out the wishes described in the will.
A holographic will should also state your intent for the document to be a will. All wills require the testator to be “of sound mind.” Clearly expressing your intent for the document to be a will can avoid future problems about whether you intended the document to be a will.
And remember, because all holographic wills are handwritten, it is essential that you write legibly and avoid making errors to avoid any confusion later.
Yes, a holographic will can be contested, just as any will can. Indeed, it is common for holographic wills to be contested because they often lack witnesses.
A holographic will could be contested as invalid for several reasons, including:
Keep in mind that vague language, illegible handwriting, or errors made on holographic wills can also call the will’s validity into question.
To be valid under the Ohio holographic will statute, a holographic will must meet all of the same requirements as a traditional will. To create a valid holographic will in Ohio: