Is a Hand-Written Notarized Will Legal?

By Heather Frances J.D.

Your will can direct the distribution of your property after your death, name someone you trust to manage your estate and even nominate a guardian for your minor children. But your will can't do any of that if it isn't valid in your state. Generally, a handwritten will is just as legally valid as a typed or printed will as long as it meets your state's standards.

Most Wills Must Be Written

While a handful of states recognize oral wills under limited circumstances, most wills must be in written form to be considered legally valid. If a written will meets state legal standards, such as having signature and witness requirements, it does not matter whether it is printed by a computer, typed, handwritten or a combination of both. Generally, states require that a written will, whether printed or handwritten, be signed in front of at least two qualified witnesses. If a will meets this and other requirements set by state law, it is considered valid regardless of how it is written.

Holographic Wills

Some states, including Texas and California, recognize holographic wills, which are wills written completely in the deceased person's own handwriting. Holographic wills do not have to meet the same signature requirements and other formalities that standard written wills must meet. They are designed for situations in which a dying person cannot draft a more formal will. Generally, holographic wills must be dated and signed by the deceased person, be legible and clearly state who should receive the deceased person's assets. Such wills typically do not have to be notarized to be valid in the states that recognize them. Holographic wills do not require witness signatures either.

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Notary versus Witnesses

A notary attests that the signer of a document is actually who he says he is, so a notary can swear that the person who signed the will is the person whose name is on the will. While witness and notarization requirements generally do not apply to holographic wills, whether a non-holographic written will requires notarization is a question of state law. For example, Texas does not require the notarization of wills, but does require that at least two witnesses over the age of 14 sign -- and watch you sign -- the will. You can also create a self-proving affidavit to make it easier for your family to admit your will to probate after your death. In a self-proving affidavit, you and the witnesses swear under penalty of perjury that you were competent to sign the will and that the witnesses meet your state's witness qualifications. A self-proving affidavit must be notarized.

Proving a Will in Court

After your death, the probate court must accept your will before your assets can be distributed according to its terms. Holographic wills can face an uphill battle if they are not witnessed or notarized. For example, a handwriting expert or someone familiar with the deceased's handwriting may have to testify to prove that the will is entirely in your handwriting. Handwritten wills that attempt to meet state requirements for standard wills can also be difficult to prove or administer because the terms of the will may not be clear to the court or may be unenforceable because they violate legal principles. Generally, the safest will is a professionally prepared, printed and witnessed document.

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Can a Person Write Their Own Will & Then Have It Notarized?


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Self-Proving Will Statutes in New York

Writing a valid will ensures that your property is divided according to your wishes. If you fail to make a will, or if you do not sign it properly, the state authorities will make those decisions on your behalf. To be legally valid, a will should be signed and witnessed in accordance with state laws. A self-proving will contains a certification that the will has been properly executed and makes the probate procedure more straightforward. Article 3 of the New York Code sets out the laws relating to signing wills in the state.

Rules for Witnessing a Will

A last will and testament is a powerful legal document that instructs the executor of an estate how to distribute the property of the writer of the will, known as the testator, after he dies. Because of the potential and motivation for fraud, state governments have passed laws imposing strict restrictions on the format of a will. All states require that the testator's signature be witnessed.

Are Homemade Wills Legal in Texas?

Texas does not require you to have an attorney draft your will, so you can write one yourself at home or complete one online. However, your homemade typewritten will must meet all the same formalities as if your will had been drafted by an attorney, and an online legal services provider can help you meet these formalities. Texas will also allow handwritten -- or holographic -- wills, but they come with inherent disadvantages.

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