Are Holographic Wills Legal in the State of Tennessee?

By Joseph Nicholson

A holographic will is a will that is written by hand instead of printed or typed. The state of Tennessee generally recognizes holographic wills, but the Tennessee Code has particular requirements for their validity. In order to make a valid holographic will, you must have the general capacity to create a will, which in Tennessee means you must be at least 18 years of age and of sound mind.


A holographic will must be in the handwriting of the testator, or the person whose will it is intended to be. A will dictated by the testator and written by someone else does not qualify as a holographic will, but may be valid in Tennessee if it meets the state’s requirements for nuncupative, or oral, wills. As stated in the Tennessee Code, all material provisions of a holographic will, meaning the signature of the testator, the date and language identifying or disposing of estate assets, must be in the handwriting of the testator.


Any credible person that has not been convicted of a felony or crime of "moral turpitude" can serve as a witness to a will in Tennessee. Even a person who stands to receive property under the will can act as a witness. A valid holographic will does not need to be witnessed at the time it is signed by the testator. The handwriting of the testator, however, must be verified at the time of probate by at least two witnesses.

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Holographic Wills Before February 15, 1941

According to the Tennessee Code, a holographic will executed on or to prior February 15, 1941 is subject to special conditions. A document that otherwise meets the requirements for a holographic will is capable of conveying interests in real estate if it is believed by at least three credible witnesses that the entire document is written in the handwriting of the testator. Such a will is valid if it is found among the papers of the testator, or lodged with a third party for safekeeping.

Foreign Execution

Though Tennessee recognizes holographic wills, it does not recognize a holographic will executed in a state that does not. For example, a will executed in South Carolina, a state that does not recognize holographic wills executed within its boundaries -- or in California, but does not satisfy that state’s requirements for holographic wills -- is not valid in Tennessee even if the will otherwise meets Tennessee’s requirements for holographic wills.

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Is a Handwritten Will Legal in Pennsylvania?

Handwritten wills have a long history in the United States, given that originally all wills were handwritten. However, in the interests of combating fraud and undue influence on testators, the requirements for a will to be declared valid have altered over the years. A handwritten will may be legal in Pennsylvania depending on the individual circumstances.

Is a Notary Needed for a Will to Be Legal?

The requirements of a valid will are determined by state law. Usually a will is subject to the laws of the state in which it's executed, and most other states will also recognize the will's validity, with some limitations, if it would have been valid where created. Generally, a will needs to be witnessed, but not necessarily notarized.

Legal Requirements of Wills in Delaware

Delaware will laws are set forth in the Delaware Code. To be recognized as valid in Delaware, a will need not be executed in the state, nor convey assets located in the state, but only need to be valid according to the laws of the place in which it was executed at the time of execution or in the state in which the testator lived at the time of death. Any person over the age of 18 of sound mind can execute a will in Delaware.

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