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When a Handwritten Will Is Valid and When It’s Not

Posted by Christopher Martens | Jul 31, 2018 | 0 Comments

Writing Your Will

Many Californians forgo creating a will for all the wrong reasons. Some assume wills are only necessary if you have a high net-worth, while others feel that thinking about what happens when you die is too unpleasant of an experience. In reality, everyone should have a will, no matter his or her net-worth, age, or state of health. The good news is drafting a will doesn't have to be difficult. In fact, it can be as simple as writing your wishes down on a piece of paper.

Can You Handwrite Your Will?  

California recognizes handwritten wills—also called holographic wills—as valid. While handwritten wills were much more common in the past, they can make it easier for conscientious individuals today to ease into the sometimes difficult task of considering their wishes for when they die. If you can't bring yourself to speak with an attorney or have someone assist you with the process, handwriting your will is better than nothing. However, before you rely on a handwritten will to ensure your after-death wishes are honored, you should know that holographic wills aren't always held as valid under California probate code and have the potential to cause conflict and confusion among your loved ones after you die.

A holographic will must fulfill certain requirements to hold up to the rigors of a probate court. To help clarify when a handwritten will is valid and when it's not, here is some essential information that can help you in drafting a will of your own.

Trouble in Probate

A holographic will must be handwritten in your own handwriting and signed by you. In California, holographic wills are only valid if they are entirely in the testator's own handwriting. They do not necessarily need to be witnessed, notarized, or even dated. Many people handwrite their wills when they think their wishes are clear and straightforward, their estate holds little value, or their heirs already know what their intentions are. These are all good reasons to handwrite your will, but, unfortunately, they are also the reasons why handwritten wills are frequently challenged in court. After you die, there is no guarantee your heirs or the probate court will find your wishes explicit, you might not realize the true significance of your estate without proper valuation, and you might be surprised to learn that your heirs all interpret your wishes differently. In reality, holographic wills are often misinterpreted and questioned in their validity.

Creating a clear and legally sound holographic will requires a little more than just handwriting your wishes and signing it. You should also do the following:

  • State you are of sound mind and under no duress to write your will
  • State the county in which you reside
  • State that the will should supersede all prior wills
  • State whether you are married and name your spouse
  • List all other heirs and beneficiaries in order of priority
  • Leave explicit instructions for how your estate should be handled
  • List locations of all property and assets in your estate
  • State any wishes regarding disinheriting your heirs if they take certain actions (i.e., contest your will)

At a minimum, your handwritten will should accomplish all the above, be witnessed and signed by the witnesses, and even notarized. Even if you decide to handwrite your will, you should still have an experienced California estate planning attorney carefully review it prior to signing it. Small discrepancies can result in the entire will being thrown into question. In addition, you need to have an attorney walk you through the best way to word your will to ensure your wishes are crystal clear and legally valid.

Remember, a handwritten will is not a substitute for a comprehensive estate plan, nor does it necessarily mean your loved ones will not have to go through the probate process to assume ownership of your assets. Holographic wills can be a quick and easy way to clarify your wishes for when you die. But they can be easily challenged in court. If you want to ensure your will is ironclad and will withstand the test of the probate court, take it to a California estate planning attorney for review. A quick review can save your loved ones the time and money it takes to prove a will is valid in court after you die. An estate planning attorney can ensure your holographic will is valid and will withstand the test of time. Also, an attorney can help ensure your will is comprehensive and will adequately protect and preserve your assets for your loved ones.

Do you want to ensure your will is legally valid? Fresno area estate planning attorney Christopher Martens can help you carefully plan your estate to preserve wealth and protect your loved ones' interests. Attorney Christopher Martens has the skills and knowledge needed to help you ensure your wishes are carried out properly. Serving the Visalia and Fresno areas, The Law Offices of Christopher Martens can provide strategic estate planning guidance. Call our office at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] for a free consultation.

About the Author

Christopher Martens

Bio Visalia and Bakersfield criminal defense attorney who has dedicated his life to helping those who have been accused of crimes or injured due to the negligence of others.


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