How to Write a Holographic Will

By Wayne Thomas - Updated March 27, 2017
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A will can be an effective way to let others know where you want your property to go after your death, but it can go beyond property matters. The standard way to make a will is to have it printed and signed in front of witnesses, but some states allow you to create a handwritten or "holographic" will.

Holographic Will Overview

Currently, only roughly half of the states, including Alaska and California, recognize holographic wills. You cannot have some portions of the will printed or typed and other portions in your handwriting – if you do this, the will won't be accepted as valid. Some states require that you both sign and date the will. Because there can be some variation among states, you might benefit from consulting with an attorney before deciding whether or not to create a holographic will.

Advantages of Holographic Wills

One of the major benefits to creating a holographic will is that it's easier and less expensive. Holographic wills generally don't have to be witnessed, while typed or printed wills must be signed in the presence of a certain number of witnesses set by state law. The witnesses must also sign the document. In some states, they must be "disinterested," meaning that they don’t receive anything under the terms of the will. A holographic will avoids this requirement, but you may still need to meet other state requirements applicable to all wills. For example, most states have a minimum age requirement for those wishing to make a will.

Drawbacks of Holographic Wills

One of the major downsides to a holographic will is that it's more susceptible to objections during probate. After you pass away, your will must be submitted to the court and "proved," which means your handwriting must be validated, often by a handwriting expert. The court must be able to ascertain your intent, so if your handwriting is illegible or your family members disagree over what a particular term means, this could result in the document being thrown out. If the will is disregarded, your property will instead pass according to a rigid set of rules, called the intestacy laws. These laws prioritize your heirs based on their legal relationship to you. This process might be wholly at odds with your wishes.

Lack of Witnesses

In all states, you must be of sound mind to create a will. This means you are able to understand the nature of your property and that you are making a will. If you created or amended your holographic will while you were lucid but never dated it and subsequently became mentally incapacitated, it might be impossible to prove that you were of sound mind at the time. This could be critical if an objection to the will is raised during probate. The same rationale applies to claims that you were coerced into making the will in a certain way or that it's the result of fraud. If you execute a typed or printed will in the presence of witnesses, this can help safeguard against having it tossed out based on these types of challenges.

About the Author

Wayne Thomas earned his J.D. from Penn State University and has been practicing law since 2008. He has experience writing about environmental topics, music and health, as well as legal issues. Since 2011, Thomas has also served as a contributing editor for the "Vermont Environmental Monitor."

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