States Where Holographic Wills Are Legal

By Michelle Kaminsky

States Where Holographic Wills Are Legal

By Michelle Kaminsky

The proper way to execute a valid last will and testament varies by state law, but it often includes the requirement that the testator, or person writing the will, and two witnesses sign it. Depending on where you live, however, an entirely handwritten, or holographic, will may be admitted to probate. In such states, the document is acceptable even if no one witnessed you signing it.

Holographic Will Requirements

While specific holographic will requirements, such as whether the document needs to be dated, differ by state, generally, the document must be entirely written in the handwriting of the testator. In the age of online will forms, some testators may decide to use preprinted documents, portions of which are typed. This partially handwritten and partially typed will can still be considered a valid holographic will if the information supplied in the blank spaces is handwritten, and those portions are the important ones, such as sections bequeathing property. If such provisions are, instead, preprinted, the testator runs the risk of the will being declared invalid.

An important section to include is one that clearly states the testator's intention that the document serves as a last will and testament. Moreover, naming an executor and provisions that leave property to heirs are also convincing language to show that the document is meant to be a will.

Witnesses to the testator's signature on a holographic will are generally not needed to prove the signature's authenticity. However, some states do require witnesses to testify that the handwriting is that of the decedent. The number of required witnesses varies by state, and, if necessary, a handwriting expert could be consulted.

Another broad exception that applies to holographic wills is if the testator is a member of the Merchant Marines or an active military member serving in an armed conflict. In Maryland, New York, and Rhode Island, a holographic will drafted by such a person is admissible to probate until one year after their active duty ends.

States Accepting Holographic Wills

With the caveat that state laws change, as of 2019, about half of the states permit holographic wills, including the following:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Idaho
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming

Because requirements regarding holographic wills, including how to prove their authenticity during the probate process, vary by state, understanding these provisions now and preparing appropriately can save a headache later. For example, if you know that you will need two witnesses to testify to your handwriting, you might consider lining up those people ahead of time to ensure better that your wishes in your last will and testament are followed once you're gone.

Holographic Wills Only as Foreign Wills

A smaller number of jurisdictions don't allow holographic wills drafted within their own state but will permit foreign holographic wills, or handwritten wills that were executed properly in other states. These states include:

  • Alabama
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Iowa
  • Minnesota
  • New Mexico
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • Washington

For example, if someone drafts a holographic will in Pennsylvania and then moves to Minnesota, a Minnesota probate court would admit the Pennsylvania will to probate provided that the will met the requirements of Pennsylvania law when it was executed.

If you're considering drafting a holographic will, it is critical that you understand your state's laws regarding the admissibility of such a document in probate. If you're not sure if your last will and testament will hold up, you run the risk of your last wishes not being followed.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.