A holographic will is simply a will that’s written, signed and dated by hand. Seems simple enough, right?
You might be thinking, That sounds fast, free and easy—I’ll take care of it now! While we applaud your sense of responsibility in making sure your family knows where you want your stuff to go when you die, this is no time for shortcuts.
The truth is, holographic wills can cause a whole lot of headaches for the family left behind compared to a simple will. Don’t worry, though. You don’t have to get caught in that trap. We’ll show you the best way to make sure your family knows your last wishes—and it’s easier (and cheaper) than you think.
- Why Make a Holographic Will?
- How Does a Holographic Will Work?
- Which States Accept a Holographic Will?
- What Are the Disadvantages of Holographic Wills?
1. Why Make a Holographic Will?
Most people in the 21st century create their wills using an online template or an estate attorney. But some people—especially in life-threatening situations—write their wills by hand because they don’t have the time or resources to create one another way.
Save 10% on your will with the RAMSEY10 promo code.
This could happen when a soldier in an active war zone writes down their last wishes (in case they don’t make it back home). Or sometimes, people don’t have the know-how or resources, like a senior adult with limited finances—so they just do the best they can. A lot of people write a holographic will because it feels like the easiest thing to do.
2. How Does a Holographic Will Work?
At their most basic level, holographic (handwritten) wills work the same way as standard wills—the person who writes the will names a beneficiary or beneficiaries (the person or people who will receive their assets) for things like real estate, stocks, bonds and financial accounts. And just like standard wills, holographic wills must meet specific requirements to be valid—we’ll get to those in a minute. So far, they sound way easier (and cheaper) than regular wills.
Too good to be true?
Yep, sorry. Holographic wills have some conditions that, unfortunately, can leave your loved ones with a giant mess on their hands when you pass away.
Holographic Will Requirements
Here’s where holographic will requirements differ from formal wills.
- Even if a holographic will is signed by the same person who wrote it, handwriting experts must convince probate court the signature is valid.
- You can’t mix handwriting and typing—holographic wills must be written entirely in your handwriting.
- Over half of states don’t allow holographic wills—you must live in a state that allows them if you want your holographic will to be valid.
- Some of the states that do allow holographic wills do not require witnesses, which can lead to serious issues when it’s time to validate the will in probate court.
But you know which kind of will avoids all those issues completely? An online will!
3. Which States Accept a Holographic Will?
Many states in the U.S. honor a handwritten will, but not all of them. And even if your state does let you use a holographic will, there are strings attached. We already mentioned that the handwriting will have to be verified. And the courts must also be sure the person wasn’t being forced to write the will.
What else is required to make a handwritten will valid? It’s different from state to state. Some states only accept handwritten wills from soldiers in active combat zones—but even in those situations, the wills are valid only for a short time after they’ve returned home.
Just keep in mind that states change their laws all. the. time. So even if you live in a state that recognizes a handwritten will right now, that may not be the case later.
To find out the most up-to-date requirements in your state, talk to your state’s probate office by email or phone (or go in person if you enjoy visiting government offices). They’ll be able to tell you which types of wills are accepted.
Don't Know Where to Start With a Will?
Download our will worksheet to get started.
4. What Are the Disadvantages of Holographic Wills?
We mentioned earlier that the biggest drawback of holographic wills is the potential pile of problems left behind for loved ones to fix. Here’s a complete breakdown of those problems:
Proving the legal validity of a handwritten will is a challenge. Even if you’re in a state that allows holographic wills, your family could have to fight a major probate court battle.
What happens if you move to a state that doesn’t allow handwritten wills? Or what if the state you live in changes the laws and you forget to update your will? Remember: Laws change all the time, so you can’t assume your holographic will is going to be valid forever.
Locating the Will
Here’s a holographic will example: Your grandfather dies, and your grandmother swears he wrote down his last wishes back in 1972. But nobody can find any such will. The family turns the house upside down and inside out, but the will has vanished.
In the meantime, your distant cousin Cletus moves into your grandparents’ lake house because your grandfather “promised it” to him.
Yes, this can happen—and it happens more often than you’d think. A holographic will may get tucked away in some random book or wedged behind the junk drawer, lost forever. And that means stress and anxiety for the family. Not good.
If your grandfather and grandmother had filed their wills electronically or with a lawyer, then your family could access them easily. And Cletus would be staying somewhere else—big headaches averted.
You may choose to draft a handwritten will to save yourself the cost of meeting with a lawyer. Seems like a good plan, right? Not so fast. You saved money up front, but your beneficiaries may have to pay out the wazoo in legal fees and other expenses later.
Things could get tied up in court if the will is contested or if there are no witnesses to say the person was of sound mind. So, money that should go to a loved one will go to the lawyer’s bank account instead. Ouch!
Lack of Clarity
When people write their own wills by hand, those wills may not be as clear as they need to be—because folks use language and terms they think everybody else will understand.
For example, what if someone writes that all their stuff goes to “Mother”? Does that mean the wife? Does that mean a biological mother or an adoptive one? The person you call your second mom? Yikes! Talk about a mess!
The courts don’t like gray areas. They like black and white. They want everything spelled out clearly—and so should you. Otherwise, anybody can swoop in and say the dearly departed promised them everything. And then your family is stuck.
Leaving Something Out
When you create your own will with pen and paper, you run the risk of leaving out some of your assets. Picture this: You write down that your sister gets the $50,000 you stashed away in your savings account—only that account draws interest and grows to $52,000 by the time of your death. Who gets the extra $2,000? Nobody knows. Hello, probate court.
Should You Make a Holographic Will?
You’ve probably figured out by now that relying on a holographic will isn’t your best move. With all the different types of wills out there, you can find the right one for your situation. If you have a boatload of assets, you’ll want to work with a lawyer to protect and distribute that wealth if something happens to you. But for most people, there’s no need to wait around in a lawyer’s office and pay extra fees just to get a will.
Instead of going through that headache or making a maybe not-so-legal handwritten will, get with a trusted company that makes creating an online will easy. We recommend RamseyTrusted partner Mama Bear Legal Forms. All you have to do is plug in your specific information—and you can get it done in 20 minutes or less. Now you’ve got your Sunday afternoon back!