Handwritten wills, also referred to as holographic wills, were once the norm in the majority of the United States. In the past, the average consumer did not have access to a computer or the ability to afford an attorney. Now that the majority of Americans have access to computers, the internet, and affordable legal advice, the necessity of handwritten wills is being questioned.  

Though California and a few other states have strict requirements for rendering holographic wills legal and valid, many states no longer recognize handwritten wills. The primary reason these wills are not recognized is because they are viewed as being easy to challenge, creating numerous problems for probate courts. Being aware of the top three reasons handwritten wills are disputed will help you understand what type of problems leaving one behind may cause for your loved ones.

Information is Missing or Unclear

The requirements for creating a valid handwritten will are put in place to remove any doubt that the will is valid and reduce questions regarding the final wishes of the testator. Unfortunately, some people who create handwritten wills fail to meet either requirement. Forgetting to include the names of your children, spouse, or not identifying property you intend to distribute could create confusion. Also, writing your will in unclear language could make it impossible for your heirs to interpret how you want your assets distributed. Even if your heirs are all in agreement regarding your estate, their hands could be tied by an inability to decipher what you wanted them to do with your property.

The Will is Unsigned

Regardless of how a will is created, forgetting to sign it could render the entire document invalid at worst or create years of confusion for your beneficiaries at best. Famous monarch Henry VIII left behind a succession problem when he failed to sign his much amended will. Swedish author Stieg Larsson also passed away leaving behind a will that was not signed and ultimately considered by the court to be invalid. Any will you write by hand must be signed to be considered valid.  

Loved Ones do Not Believe You Wrote it

Debatably, the most common reason handwritten wills are disputed is because loved ones or business associates do not believe that you actually wrote the will. When painter Thomas Kinkade passed away leaving behind two handwritten wills that gave his mansion and the rest of his multi-million-dollar estate to his girlfriend, his family promptly challenged the will. The Kinkade estate did not believe the two wills were written by the painter and claimed that if the artist did write the wills, he was not of “sound mind and body” at the time.  

Protecting Your Legacy

Creating a legally valid will is one part of establishing an estate plan that protects those closest to you. If you are unsure about the advisability of handwriting your will, or are concerned about a loved one who has decided to use a holographic will, contact an attorney immediately.  The experienced probate attorney at MMZ Law are here to explain how your choice could affect your loved ones and help you find alternative methods to secure your legacy. Contact us today to schedule an initial consultation so that we can begin discussing your needs.




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Claremont, CA 91711

MARIVEL M. ZIALCITA is the founder of MMZ LAW, A Professional Corporation, where she practices in the areas of Elder Law – Medi-Cal Planning Asset Protection, Trust & Estate, Special Needs, Conservatorship, Trust Administration, & Probate. Ms. Zialcita is a frequent speaker on trust and estate matters and holds memberships in the State Bar of California, Trust and Estate Section, The San Bernardino County Bar Association, Wealth Counsel and Elder Counsel. She currently assists in the pro bono legal services program at the James L. Brulte Senior Center in Rancho Cucamonga, California. She is based in Claremont but assists clients throughout Southern California.

This information is educational information only and not legal advice.