Holographic Will

What is a holographic will?

A holographic will is a handwritten document that outlines how someone wants their assets to pass upon their death. It is simply a handwritten last will and testament, typically created by someone who hasn’t been able to get a proper last will and testament in place or is in imminent danger of death.

The drawback of relying on a holographic will is that many states either don’t recognize it as a valid document or impose strict guidelines for recognition. This is why it’s important to plan ahead and consider estate planning strategies that would best help you meet your goals without waiting until the 11th hour.

How is a holographic will different from a standard will?

The will is a legal document that outlines how one’s property should be distributed after their death. The person who writes a will is called the “testator” if they are male, or “testatrix” if they are female. A standard legal will is generally typewritten, dated, signed by the testator, and witnessed by two or more competent adults. A holographic will, on the other hand, is written by hand and may often miss one or more of the elements required for a will to be legal.

Are handwritten wills legal?

So can you handwrite a will and still have it considered as a valid document when judged by the courts? The answer will depend on the state in which the will is drafted and admitted. 

While some states recognize holographic wills, others do not or have specific requirements for their validity. In most cases, however, for a holographic will to be considered legally valid, it typically needs to meet most, if not all, of the following criteria: 

  • Must be drafted by someone who is at least 18 years old, mentally competent, and free from duress or undue influence. 
  • Must be entirely handwritten by the testator, or at least its core provisions need to be in the testator’s handwriting, depending on the state.
  • Must clearly express the testator’s intention to create a will.
  • Must provide an unambiguous description of the property being transferred and a clear identification of the beneficiaries.
  • Must contain the signature of the testator and show the date it was signed.
  • Must be witnessed according to the laws of the testator’s state.

Establishing the authenticity of holographic writing in a legal setting can sometimes involve inviting witnesses who saw the testator writing and signing the will or who are familiar with the testator’s writing style. It can even include inviting handwriting experts to review the holographic will.

If you’re wondering how to write a handwritten will effectively, use the above list to increase the likelihood of the will being recognized as valid. However, don’t forget that every state has its own set of rules for honoring a holographic will.

Which states recognize the validity of a holographic will?

Not all states recognize holographic wills as a legal way to transfer property. Here is a list of the states that may currently recognize a holographic will as a legal document, if executed properly:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana (known as “olographic” will)
  • Maine
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming


While the testator may have written a holographic will in any of the above states, they may also dispose of property owned in other states. Yet only certain states recognize “foreign wills” that were handwritten. States that may recognize the validity of a holographic will written in one of the above states include: 

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


There are also states like New York and Maryland that only recognize a holographic will when it’s written by a member of the US Armed Forces. The will may only be valid for one year (or three years in the case of mariners at sea) after the testator has been discharged from the Armed Forces or has ceased service.

Holographic will example

John, a middle-aged man, receives a devastating diagnosis out of the blue. Learning that he has terminal cancer and realizing that his time is limited, he decides to create a handwritten will to ensure his assets are passed down based on his wishes. 

In his holographic will, John specifies that his entire estate, including his home, savings, and personal belongings, should go to his spouse, Mary. He also wants to make provisions for their two children, designating funds for their education and future needs. John expresses his desire to make a charitable donation to a cancer research organization. John signs and dates the holographic will, making sure it’s clear and legible. He informs his close family members and a trusted friend about the existence of the document and its location to ensure his wishes are known and can be carried out after his passing.

What are the benefits and disadvantages of a holographic will?

What are some of the benefits of a holographic will? The simplicity of writing something with just pen and paper makes it easy to put a holographic will together, especially in life-threatening cases or situations where the individual has no other options. Because lawyers usually aren’t involved in the drafting of a handwritten will, there are no legal costs involved. If no third parties are involved in crafting the will, the individual writing it may also feel that they have a greater sense of privacy.

One of the biggest disadvantages of a holographic will, however, is that it may not be recognized as valid or may be easily contested. 

A holographic will can be contested for various reasons, including:

  • concerns about the testator’s mental capacity when creating the will
  • allegations of undue influence or coercion by others
  • ambiguity in the document’s language
  • claims of forgery or fraud in the testator’s signature or handwriting
  • the discovery of a later will that revokes the holographic one
  • improper execution that fails to meet legal requirements of the state

The risk with not having a holographic will recognized by the courts is that the assets will then pass based on that state’s laws of intestacy, which may be out of alignment with the testator’s wishes.

How to write a handwritten will

While a holographic or a handwritten will is generally not the best solution in estate planning, here are some more ways to increase chances that the will is going to be recognized as valid:

First, check whether a holographic will is acceptable in your state (see above). 

  • Clearly state that this is your Last Will and Testament at the top of the page. 
  • Identify yourself with your full legal name, address, and other identifying information.
  • Provide a comprehensive list of your assets and specify who you want to inherit each asset. Include their full names and relationships to you.
  • Name the person you want to be the executor of your will.
  • Sign and date the document using your full legal name.

In some states, it is essential to have witnesses sign your holographic will to confirm its authenticity. Ideally, it will be witnessed regardless of state specific requirements to help prove the validity of the document. 

Rather than relying solely on a holographic will, however, consider seeing an estate planning attorney or using an estate planning software like Vanilla to help you craft your last will and testament properly to ensure your wishes are honored.

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