Offered by Michael A. Dolan, Attorney and Counselor at Law
Handwritten wills, or “holographic wills” do not require the same signing formality as a will that is typewritten. Wills must be executed and witnessed in a very formal and specific manner in order to be effective. Individuals who prepare their own will on their typewriter or word processor often fail to have the will properly executed. An individual can avoid the need for the required formalities if all of the material portions of the will are in their own handwriting.
Preparing handwritten wills, or handwritten codicils to a prior will, without assistance can be troublesome. People tend to use very imprecise language when attempting to write their own wills; particularly when they are struggling physically and/or mentally. As a result, the handwritten will can be subject to several different interpretations. In order to resolve the discrepancies, the court will hold a hearing to decide what you actually intended. As a result, the judge will determine your intent based on input from family members who are now fighting with each other.
In many cases, the handwritten will or codicil is contested simply because it is made late in life without proper thought or planning after an individual is showing signs of diminished capacity. Undue influence by family members is often argued in these situations because there are no disinterested witnesses to testify that your handwritten estate plan really represents your intent.
This can be avoided by putting a formally prepared estate plan in place early using precise and specific language, and reviewing it regularly to make sure that it continues to meet your intent. Not only does this make the plan more enforceable, it provides you with peace of mind. It can also help remind you of your true and well thought out intent when you are struggling late in life and are encouraged by others to make changes. While preparing a handwritten will is an option, taking the additional steps and formality of working with an attorney to prepare your will can prevent significant problems, battles, and even litigation after your death.
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