A Will may be one of the most important documents a person can make in their lifetime. Making a Will is a way of taking stock of what has been acquired, built, and earned throughout a life, and making clear what will happen to those assets once someone is gone. Creating a Will is a way of making wishes known when a person can no longer make those directives on their own, and a Will makes it legally possible for those wishes to be carried out.
When thinking of a Will, we probably think of an official document. It – like all important documents – may be notarized, registered, and filed away in a safe place. And most of us imagine a modern Will to be, at the very least, typed up and printed out.
But not all Wills are. And not every Will needs to be typed to be valid. Technically, a Will is a written document and though it is often typed out, sometimes a Will can be handwritten and still be considered a legitimate record of someone’s final wishes. Let’s take a look at when a handwritten Will is sufficient and when it might not be enough.
What is a Handwritten Will?
A handwritten Will is a document that a person has written and signed, declaring how their estate, medical decisions, and other end-of-life matters will be handled. It can be as brief or elaborate as its Testator (the person who is making the will) decides it should be.
A Will is created in advance of a person’s death, often as part of their Estate Planning. A Will can be made days, weeks, months, years or decades before a person dies, so long as the person making the Will is eighteen years old or older and is of sound mind. A Will can be changed at any point after it has been created, to reflect changes in a person’s life and asset ownership. Sometimes a new Will may be created if the maker of the Will deems it necessary.
Regardless of when a Will is made, its purpose is the same: to state who will be receiving the assets belonging to the Testator upon their death. Sometimes meeting with a lawyer or having a typed Will ready is not practical or possible and a handwritten Will may be created. In some cases, a person may prefer to write out their own Will.
Can a Handwritten Will be Notarized?
Handwritten Wills are categorized in two ways: those that are notarized and those that are not notarized. A Will that is written by hand and signed by its maker and is also notarized is called a self-written Will. A Will that is written and signed by its maker but is not notarized is called a Holographic Will.
So, yes, a handwritten Will can be notarized, but this step isn’t always taken. Notarizing a Will means that it is verified that a will is self-proving. It means that the identity of the person who has written the Will is confirmed, and that the person has understood what they have written in their Will, and that their signature was witnessed. If and when a person’s Estate goes to probate after their death, having a notarized self-written Will can speed up the probate timeline and make things somewhat easier for beneficiaries.
If a handwritten Will is not notarized, it may not be considered valid or its legality may come into question when it's time to distribute assets.
Is a Handwritten Will Legally Valid?
A story featured in the Guinness Book of World records highlights the shortest Will that’s ever been written, and it also happens to be a handwritten Will. A man was facing certain death, so he wrote on his wall: “Everything to wife.” It doesn’t get more straightforward than that. Since there was no disputing that his last Will and Testament was written by him, it held up.
Now, while you or loved ones won’t ever want to find yourself in that position, needing to write your Will on the wall at the very last minute, if you’re dealing with a handwritten Will that was written by hand by choice or out of necessity, you may have to prove its validity.
Proving that a handwritten Will is as valid as a professionally-prepared, typed Will may come up if the Will is contested, for example, if a family member or beneficiary of the Will doesn’t agree with its terms. They might claim that the handwritten Will was not really written by the Testator, or that they were pressured into signing it while under duress.
Being able to prove that a Will is legal and valid is very important. A handwritten Will that is notarized is generally seen as valid. A handwritten Will that is not notarized – again, called a holographic Will – is only valid in some states.
What States Accept a Handwritten Will?
Holographic Wills – handwritten Wills that are not notarized but that are presumably written and signed by the Will’s Testator – are typically the type of Will in question here. A Holographic Will may be accepted in: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming. New York and Maryland may accept holographic Wills for members of the armed forces, under specific circumstances. Indiana and Missouri have no specific statutes regarding holographic Wills. Any other state does not recognize a holographic Will as legal or valid. There are often state-specific requirements to Wills and matters of inheritance that should be taken into consideration when creating a Will.
Will it Stand in Court?
If you or the assets in question are in one of the states that allows for holographic Wills to be used to transfer property after a death, it may stand in court. If you are not in one of the states mentioned above, a handwritten Will won’t be enough. Wills that have been written by hand have certainly been used in the pat and can still be used today, though it comes down to this: do you want to take that chance? Assessing a lifetime of property and valuables, thoughtfully assigning beneficiaries, putting your final wishes down in writing – all for it to be thrown out in court? For many people, that chance just isn’t worth taking.
Why do you need more than a Handwritten Will?
Writing a Will by hand may seem like the easy way to do it, but will it be enough? While a handwritten Will may be the only option in some rare instances, being prepared is always the better option. That’s why creating a professionally-prepared Will can be a much more solid option than relying on a handwritten Will. Preparing a Will is one of the ways you can protect the assets you’ve worked so hard for throughout your life, and how you can look out for your loved ones after you’ve gone. If you have anything that may need to be managed, if you have anything you want to leave to someone close to you, you should have a Will. And while you can write a Will by hand, you may need more than a handwritten Will to see that your wishes are recognized by law and carried out as you intended.
That’s where we can help you. Here at Trust & Will, we help you create affordable, customized Wills and other Estate Planning documents online, anytime. Don’t take your chances with a handwritten Will– create your Will with help from Trust & Will.