Your will can direct the distribution of your property after your death, name someone you trust to manage your estate and even nominate a guardian for your minor children. But your will can't do any of that if it isn't valid in your state. Generally, a handwritten will is just as legally valid as a typed or printed will as long as it meets your state's standards.
Most Wills Must Be Written
While a handful of states recognize oral wills under limited circumstances, most wills must be in written form to be considered legally valid. If a written will meets state legal standards, such as having signature and witness requirements, it does not matter whether it is printed by a computer, typed, handwritten or a combination of both. Generally, states require that a written will, whether printed or handwritten, be signed in front of at least two qualified witnesses. If a will meets this and other requirements set by state law, it is considered valid regardless of how it is written.
Some states, including Texas and California, recognize holographic wills, which are wills written completely in the deceased person's own handwriting. Holographic wills do not have to meet the same signature requirements and other formalities that standard written wills must meet. They are designed for situations in which a dying person cannot draft a more formal will. Generally, holographic wills must be dated and signed by the deceased person, be legible and clearly state who should receive the deceased person's assets. Such wills typically do not have to be notarized to be valid in the states that recognize them. Holographic wills do not require witness signatures either.
Read More: States Where Holographic Wills Are Legal
Notary versus Witnesses
A notary attests that the signer of a document is actually who he says he is, so a notary can swear that the person who signed the will is the person whose name is on the will. While witness and notarization requirements generally do not apply to holographic wills, whether a non-holographic written will requires notarization is a question of state law. For example, Texas does not require the notarization of wills, but does require that at least two witnesses over the age of 14 sign -- and watch you sign -- the will. You can also create a self-proving affidavit to make it easier for your family to admit your will to probate after your death. In a self-proving affidavit, you and the witnesses swear under penalty of perjury that you were competent to sign the will and that the witnesses meet your state's witness qualifications. A self-proving affidavit must be notarized.
Proving a Will in Court
After your death, the probate court must accept your will before your assets can be distributed according to its terms. Holographic wills can face an uphill battle if they are not witnessed or notarized. For example, a handwriting expert or someone familiar with the deceased's handwriting may have to testify to prove that the will is entirely in your handwriting. Handwritten wills that attempt to meet state requirements for standard wills can also be difficult to prove or administer because the terms of the will may not be clear to the court or may be unenforceable because they violate legal principles. Generally, the safest will is a professionally prepared, printed and witnessed document.
Heather Frances has been writing professionally since 2005. Her work has been published in law reviews, local newspapers and online. Frances holds a Bachelor of Arts in social studies education from the University of Wyoming and a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School.