Are Handwritten Wills Valid?

Handwritten wills may or may not be valid based on your state laws and whether your properly execute the will. States have their own legal requirements for what makes a will valid, which is why it's important to review your own state laws with your estate-planning attorney or on your own. Holographic wills, the legal term for handwritten wills, are effective in some states but not in others.

Valid Handwritten Wills

The first step to a valid handwritten will is to make sure you're executing one in a state that recognizes them. Once you verify that, then most states require the following:

  • The entire will has to be written by hand, although some allow you to use a preprinted form.
  • You have to name an executor.
  • You have to include a statement that the document is a will.
  • One or more provisions of the will have to distribute property to one or more beneficiaries.
  • Two witness signatures are required, although some states require no witnesses.
  • Signature and date must be in your handwriting, even when using a preprinted form.
  • The will has to name a guardian for minor children.

These are the general written requirements that make a will valid, but your state laws may not require all of these. For example, a preprinted form from a will software or legal template is effective in some states. You will have to sign and date it in your own handwriting, though, in addition to filling in the blanks.

Invalid Handwritten Wills

If you miss some of the written requirements, then your will may not be valid in your state. In addition to the written requirements, there are other legal requirements, and your will can also be invalid if they're not met. Factors that can invalidate your will include the following:

  • You did not obtain enough signatures from witnesses in a state that does not exempt that requirement.
  • Witnesses are not older than 18 years.
  • The witnesses are also beneficiaries.
  • Your signature doesn't match the name that you printed in the body of the will.
  • you used a preprinted form in a state that doesn't recognize it as a valid handwritten will.

You don't have to get a notary public to notarize your will in order to make it valid. The witnesses' signatures are sufficient according to state laws.

Challenges to Handwritten Wills

Most legal experts advise against using a handwritten will because such a will is easy to challenge. Many probate judges don't like them even in states where they are valid. The most common way to challenge these wills is to state that they lack the signature of witness requirements. If you write a will out by hand, you should get the signatures of witnesses even if your state doesn't require them. It will help to solidify the will if it's challenged during a probate proceeding.

The last thing you want to do is die without a will, because your property may be distributed by a probate court in ways that you do not want. Handwritten wills can be challenged, but they are valid if you meet the legal requirements and if your state acknowledges them.

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