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What is a Holographic Will (& Why It’s Not the Best Choice)

Curious about holographic Wills and whether or not they are considered legally binding? We answer all the questions you need to know.

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Patrick Hicks, @PatrickHicks

Head of Legal, Trust & Will

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When someone decides that the time has come to create their Will, they will typically hire a lawyer to help produce it. They might also choose to fill out the paperwork themselves, sign it in front of witnesses, and have it notarized. In recent years, more companies have made it possible to create your own Will online. Trust & Will can help you create a Will-Based Estate Plan in minutes, from beginning to finalization.

There are several ways to go about creating a Will, but not everyone has the luxury of time and planning. Sometimes, a Will needs to be made in a hurry. Sometimes it even needs to be done in an emergency. In those cases, someone might take out a piece of paper and jot down who they would like to leave any property or possessions to in the event of their death. That is what is known as a Holographic Will. But just because you have written down your last wishes, does that make it legally binding? Well, it depends.

In this guide, we will summarize what you need to know about a Holographic Will and how they work.

1. What is a Holographic Will?

2. States Where Holographic Wills are Valid

3. States Where Holographic Wills are Not Valid

4. What to Include in a Holographic Will

5. Create a Legally Binding Will That is Valid Everywhere

What is a Holographic Will?

A Holographic Will is a handwritten Will signed by the person who wrote it, also known as the “Testator.” It is an alternative to a traditional Will produced by a lawyer or created through a legally-valid online service (Like Trust & Will).

Certain circumstances might prompt someone to write a Holographic Will. The reasons can range from a medical emergency, like a heart attack; a freak accident like being stuck under a large piece of heavy machinery; or a military service member who fears they might not make it home. Someone with a general lack of knowledge and resources might also think that writing their own Last Testament will suffice.

Just because writing a Holographic Will seems more simple than hiring a lawyer or filling out the paperwork yourself does not necessarily make it a better option. Even when created out of necessity, a handwritten Will is not always legally binding.

Just over half of U.S. States recognize Holographic Wills, and the requirements for each state, such as if witnesses must be present at the time of signing and how many, vary.

States Where Holographic Wills are Valid:

  • Alaska

  • Arizona

  • Arkansas

  • California

  • Colorado

  • Idaho

  • Kentucky

  • Louisiana

  • Maine

  • Michigan

  • Mississippi

  • Montana

  • Nebraska

  • Nevada

  • New Jersey

  • North Carolina

  • North Dakota

  • Oklahoma

  • South Dakota

  • Tennessee

  • Texas

  • Utah

  • Virginia

  • West Virginia

  • Wyoming

States Where Holographic Wills NOT Valid 

  • Alabama

  • Delaware

  • Florida

  • Georgia

  • Illinois

  • Kansas

  • Massachusetts

  • Minnesota

  • New Hampshire

  • New Mexico

  • Ohio

  • Oregon

  • Rhode Island

  • Vermont

  • Wisconsin

Other State Guidelines:

  • Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Washington: accept Holographic Wills under the condition that it was written in a state where Holographic Wills are valid.

  • New York and Maryland accept Holographic Will for active members of the U.S. Armed Forces only. These wills are valid for up to one year after service.

What to Include in a Holographic Will

A quick note to your sons bequeathing your collection of power tools to them may seem sufficient. This is especially true if you find yourself in a dire situation and have few other options. But even the most basic Holographic Wills should contain these three parts:

  • Who you are: state your full name, as well as your city, state, and county of residence. You must also declare that you are of sound mind and capable of determining your own affairs.

  • The intent to bestow: make a list of items you wish to leave your loved ones in the event of your death, as well as who should receive it. This can include:

    • Property

    • Money

    • Bank accounts

    • Stocks and bonds

    • Family heirlooms

    • Personal possessions

  • Your signature: finally, sign your document and don't forget to add the date.

While these are the most pertinent parts of a Holographic Will, there are other important considerations to make, time and resources permitting.

You may have created a Will in previous years that you want to void. This could be because circumstances have changed, and you simply didn't have time to update your prior Will. In that case, you must write at the beginning of your Holographic Will that this latest Will supersedes and invalidates any previously executed Wills.

Be sure that you write your Holographic Will clearly and legibly so that none of your wishes can be ignored or misinterpreted.

Keep in mind that laws regarding Holographic Wills vary from state to state. If you don't live in a state where Holographic Wills are valid, it could cause your loved ones frustration and hardship when you only wanted to protect and provide for them.

How to Create a Legally Binding Will That is Valid Everywhere 

A Holographic Will may get the job done in a dire or emergent situation, location permitting. However, they should be considered a last resort.

You want to know that your family is taken care of after you're gone. That your daughter knows about the stocks you have been holding onto for years; and that your grandmother's wedding ring makes it to your granddaughter's hand when the time comes. Don't wait until there is an emergency and you have no other choice but to hurriedly write down the information that your family needs and hope that you didn't forget anything. You can ensure that your estate is taken care of and your last wishes carried out when you create a Will online with Trust & Will.

Trust & Will makes it easy to create a customized, legally binding Will that is valid everywhere in just three simple steps:

  1. Answer a few questions about what's right for you and your family with options customized to your specific needs.

  2. Instantly download or ship your documents. Each state-specific Will is built by knowledgeable attorneys and customized by you.

  3. Sign your document and have it notarized at your convenience to make it legally binding.

The future is uncertain, but Trust & Will makes it easy to plan for even the unexpected. Get started today.

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