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"Last Will"

A holographic will sounds like something high-tech, but it’s quite the opposite: A will that’s completely written by hand, specifies what property or assets, such as bonds, stocks and fund accounts, are being willed and any circumstances that recipients must meet to receive named assets.

Such wills aren’t necessarily recognized in all situations, with the legal status of such wills varying by state. In this article we discuss the requirements for holographic wills, which states recognize them and the potential downfalls.

Holographic Will: The Basics

A holographic will is a will that is entirely handwritten and done without the help of a lawyer. These types of wills, which represent one of the simplest forms of estate planning, don’t require witnesses or notaries.

While not all states recognize holographic wills, there are some basic requirements these types of wills must meet in order to be legally recognized. First, they must name a beneficiary. Second, the will must have been written by the deceased. Third, the testator – in other words, the person who created the will – must be of sound mind. It’s important to note that proof must be provided for the latter two stipulations.

States That Recognize Holographic Wills

While the validity of such wills varies by state, some states do recognize these types of wills. States that recognize holographic wills include Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

Additionally, holographic wills written in the aforementioned states are also legally recognized by Connecticut, Hawaii, South Carolina, Washington and Wisconsin.

The entirety of a holographic will or the material possessions section must be handwritten in order for it to be legally recognized, depending on the state’s requirements. Additionally, some states will legally accept a holographic will for soldiers at war or sailors at sea, which becomes invalid when they return to land or leave the military.

Requirements of Holographic Wills

A woman writes her willIn order for a holographic will to be valid, it must meet a few requirements. First, it must be either entirely in the testator’s handwriting, or the naming of material provisions must be in their handwriting. This requirement varies by state.

It must clearly state that it’s the testator’s will, and not just notes for a future, not-yet-created will. Additionally, it must state the property and the beneficiary who receives it. A holographic will must also be signed by the testator and in some states, dated.

Potential Downfalls

The most obvious downfall of a holographic will is that it may not be recognized, depending on the deceased’s state of residence. That’s why it’s always best to create a valid, legally binding will with a lawyer. This is your best move in ensuring that your estate is distributed according to your wishes.

Proving that a holographic will is valid can be another potential downfall since the will is written without any witnesses present. As such, it can be hard to prove that the will is in fact the last wishes of the testator. In order for a holographic will to be deemed legally binding, witnesses or those familiar with the deceased must testify that the handwritten is the deceased’s in probate court. It may also need to be examined by a handwriting analysis expert.

Holographic wills can also be contested on the basis of their validity, or lack thereof. These wills should only be used if no other option is available. Remember, it’s also best to create a valid will and last testament with a lawyer. It’s the most effective way to ensure that your estate is distributed according to your wishes.

The Bottom Line

A hand-written will

A holographic will is entirely handwritten, created without the help of a lawyer, witnesses or notaries. However, these wills must name a beneficiary, be written by the deceased, and the testator must be of sound mind. Some states do not recognize holographic wills, and some states will legally accept a holographic will for soldiers at war or sailors at sea. However, such wills become invalid when they return to land or leave the military.

Tips for Estate Planning 

  • The prospect of making a complete estate plan can seem overwhelming, but a financial advisor who specializes in estate planning can help. Finding such an advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • If you have a sizable estate, estate taxes on either the state or federal level could be hefty. However, you can easily plan ahead for taxes to maximize your loved ones’ inheritances. For example, you can gift portions of your estate in advance to heirs, or even set up a trust.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/Ilya Burdun, ©iStock.com/RichLegg, ©iStock.com/djedzura

Rachel Cautero Rachel Cautero writes on all things personal finance, from retirement savings tips to monetary policy, even how young families can best manage the financial challenges of having children. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, Forbes, The Balance, LearnVest, SmartAsset, HerMoney, DailyWorth, The New York Observer, MarketWatch, Lifewire, The Local: East Village, a New York Times publication and The New York Daily News. Rachel was an Experian #CreditChat panelist and has appeared on Cheddar Life and NPR’s On Point Radio with Meghna Chakrabarti. She has a bachelor’s degree from Wittenberg University and a master's in journalism from New York University. Her coworkers include her one-year-old son and a very needy French bulldog.
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