Legalities of Handwritten Wills

In general, there is no legal requirement for a will to be typed or exist in any particular format. Handwritten wills are acceptable, provided they are legible and meet the standard requirements of any will.

Any will is binding if the authorship is clear, unless it can be demonstrated that the will was written under duress or the will was written while not of sound mind. Any stricture, requirement, or omission stipulated by the will must be clear and obey all local laws. The will should also be dated and signed. Failure to meet these requirements can potentially invalidate some or all of the will.

Authorship of handwritten wills is usually proved through handwriting analysis, although in special cases, handwriting analysis may be irrelevant to proving authorship. For example, a Canadian farmer who died on June 8, 1948, while trapped under his own tractor carved his will into the tractor’s fender. The will was found to be valid, and is currently on display at the University of Saskatchewan College of Law.

If a will is handwritten in part, it must be handwritten completely in order to be valid. This is because handwriting analysis can only prove authorship of the handwritten part. A will which is partially handwritten, or which has handwritten notations, may be invalidated in its entirety.

The handwriting must match that of the person who is making the will. If a different person handwrites the will, it won’t be valid unless authorship can be established by other means. 

Holographic wills

Most handwritten wills are also holographic wills. The difference between basic handwritten wills and holographic wills is that a holographic will has not been witnessed. Black’s Law Dictionary defines a holographic will as “a Will written entirely by the testator in his or her own handwriting and is not witnessed.” Holographic wills are common in emergency situations, but can also be found in other circumstances.

In 19 states, holographic wills are completely legal, providing the authorship can be proven and the contents of the will itself are legal. Most other states require a handwritten will to be witnessed and dated in the same way as any other will. The same restrictions apply as for handwritten wills.

In case the estate covers property in more than one state, both states must accept the holographic will as legal. If the matter is admitted to probate in one state, it will also have to be admitted to probate in every other state where property is involved. Some states require the will’s author to appoint a personal representative in that state who is also a local resident.