A Last Will and Testament is an essential estate planning document that ensures you have the final say in distributing your assets once you pass away. Generally, for a Last Will to be valid, it must follow your state’s laws and regulations, and you need to sign the document with at least two witnesses.
It’s best to plan ahead when creating a proper Will with the correct signatures. But what happens when time is of the essence, there are no witnesses available, and you want to make your final wishes known? Creating a holographic will might be a solution.
A holographic will (sometimes referred to as a handwritten will or holograph will) is an unwitnessed document that is entirely handwritten and signed by the testator (the person creating the Will to distribute their assets after their death).
Although this isn’t an ideal way of leaving a Will, sometimes holographic wills are necessary when a typed and witnessed document is difficult to create—such as for soldiers at war or sailors at sea.
If you’re considering a holographic will, here are some things to think about first.
Is a handwritten will valid?
Generally, a handwritten will is valid as long as it includes the testator’s signature. However, depending on the state, there may be different requirements.
For example, some states may not require the testator’s signature at all, and some states may even accept the holographic will even if the testator types it.
The court may also consider the circumstances surrounding how the Will was written when determining its validity.
For example, if a soldier is on active military duty and writes a holographic will, a probate court may consider it valid even if the state doesn’t generally accept holographic Wills.
Read more: What Is Probate?
Which states recognize holographic wills?
Not all states accept holographic wills and the ones that do usually have specific requirements that must be met for the Will to be valid.
However, as long as you meet their specific requirements, the following states will generally accept holographic wills:
- New Jersey
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
Keep in mind that state laws can change at any time, so it’s important to check with your local court, county recorder’s office, or a lawyer for confirmation that your state accepts holographic wills.
How do I write a holographic will?
Holographic wills (just like regular wills) need to specifically state that the document is a Last Will and Testament, usually by labelling it at the top. You’ll also need to sign and date your Will once you finish writing it.
To make sure the instructions in your Will are fulfilled, you’ll also need to choose people to carry out certain roles like that of an executor, a beneficiary, and a guardian.
An executor is a person you choose to carry out your last wishes according to your Will. The executor is a personal representative that ensures the proper execution of your Will once you pass away. The person you choose for this important position should be someone that you know and trust.
A beneficiary is a person or organization (like a charity) you choose to receive part of your assets. If you decide not to designate a beneficiary, the court will distribute your estate among your surviving family members according to your state’s law.
A guardian is someone you appoint, if necessary, to take care of any minor children or pets. You can also set aside funds to assist them in taking care of any dependents.
If possible, you should store your Will in a safe place. Preferably, keep it somewhere where it can’t get damaged easily, such as a fireproof and waterproof safe. You can also keep your Will with your attorney. Whatever option you choose, you must let trusted people, including your executor, know where your Will is so they can execute it when necessary.
If none of these options are possible when writing your holographic will, leave it in a place where your remaining family members or loved ones are likely to find it.
Should I Write a Holographic Will?
A standard Last Will and Testament is the best way to plan your estate and ensure that your last wishes are fulfilled. Your beneficiaries are less likely to contest your Will, and probate courts will have an easier time validating and executing the document.
If you absolutely cannot create a proper Will either because of time constraints or your circumstances, a holographic will is the next best thing. Although there is no guarantee, there’s still a chance the courts will recognize the document as valid. A holographic Will should be your last resort.
The best way to avoid a situation where you may have to create a holographic will is by planning ahead.