Holographic or Handwritten Will

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Handwritten wills, or holographic wills, are just as they sound: will documents drafted by pen or pencil, prepared in the creator’s own handwriting (not typed on a computer).

Not all states recognize them and state law can be very particular with handwritten wills. Some states require a signature, while others, no signature at all; and some jurisdictions that recognize holographic wills require no witnesses.

These minimal requirements must be met in most states:

  • There must be some evidence that the testator (deceased) actually created the will, and this can be proved through the use of witnesses, handwriting experts, or other methods.
  • The testator must have had the mental capacity to write the will, although such capacity is presumed unless there is evidence to the contrary.
  • The testator must be expressing a wish to direct the distribution of his estate to beneficiaries.

Holographic wills are often created in emergency situations, and even states that don’t regularly recognize them have found them valid if an emergency existed at the time of the will’s creation. Wills written by members of the armed services involved in armed conflicts and sailors at sea are often accepted as valid by courts in many states.

In the United States, unwitnessed handwritten wills are valid in nearly 30 states. Jurisdictions that do not recognize them may accept them under a “foreign wills act” if the will had been drafted in a jurisdiction in which it would be valid.

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