Generally speaking, a will must comply with a state’s probate formalities for admission to probate. While state laws vary, probate formalities require that a will be signed by the deceased person -- called the testator -- in the presence of at least two disinterested witnesses. However, some states permit the admission to probate of a will entirely handwritten by a testator. A handwritten will, called a “holographic will,” is admissible to probate even if no witnesses actually saw the testator sign.
The major requirement found throughout holographic will statutes is that a holographic will must be written entirely in the handwriting of the testator. Probate courts will not accept a typewritten will as a holographic will. In the case of a purported holographic will that is both typed and handwritten, such as a stationary will form that has been filled out, a probate court will typically ignore the typewritten provisions. The signing of a holographic will does not need to be witnessed, although some states require the holographic will to be dated. However, for admission to probate, a holographic will generally requires at least two individuals to testify that the holographic will was written in the handwriting of the decedent.
States That Permit Holographic Wills
Roughly half of the states recognize holographic wills and will admit a holographic will to probate. While the number of witnesses varies, the admission of a holographic will to probate requires disinterested witnesses to testify that a holographic will is in the handwriting of the testator. As of November 2010, the states that permit holographic wills to probate include 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 and Wyoming.
States That Permit Holographic Wills for Active Military Only
In New York and Maryland, a holographic will is only valid if drafted by an active member of the U.S. Armed Forces that is serving in an armed conflict, or a member of the merchant marines. A holographic will drafted by such individuals is valid until one year after they finish serving active duty. Both New York and Maryland will not accept any other holographic wills to probate, even under their foreign wills statute.
States That Only Admit Holographic Wills as Foreign Wills
Some states do not accept a holographic will to probate that is drafted within the state, but accept a holographic will to probate that has been drafted in another state that permits holographic wills under their foreign wills provision. As of November 2010, the states that will only accept a holographic will to probate as a foreign will are Connecticut, Hawaii, South Carolina and Washington.
States That Do Not Allow Holographic Wills
Other states do not accept holographic wills in any form, even as a foreign will or for active military members. These states are Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin.