What is a Holographic Will?

by Rania Combs

holographic will

A holographic Will is a handwritten Will. And there have been some strange ones.

For example, can you imagine writing your will on your bedroom wall? How about the fender of your vehicle?

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the shortest will in the world consisted of three words — “All to wife”– written on the bedroom wall of a man who realized his death was imminent.  In 1948, a farmer in Canada trapped under his tractor carved “In case I die in this mess I leave all to the wife. Cecil Geo. Harris” into his tractor’s fender. The fender was probated as his will.

Requirements for Holographic Wills in Texas

Each state and country has different rules about what constitutes a valid will. So a will valid in one jurisdiction may not be valid in another. But Texas does authorize the use of holographic wills, a handwritten will, which dispense with some of the formalities required for typewritten or formal wills.

In order to be valid in Texas, a holographic will must be wholly in the handwriting of the person making the will (the testator) and signed by him or her. It is also customary to date the will.

A testator can write a holographic will on anything, including stationery. It is not necessary for witnesses to sign a holographic will; however, it is still necessary for the testator to have testamentary capacity and testamentary intent when making the will.

Testamentary capacity means the testator must be of sound mind. Testamentary intent means the Testator intended to make a writing that specifies who will receive his property after he dies.

Texas Volunteer Lawyers have published a do-it-yourself guide for individuals who want to create a holographic will, which you can access by clicking the link. It even includes a checklist to ensure the holographic will you prepare meets all necessary legal requirements.

Do Holographic Wills Expire?

In Texas, a holographic will is a valid will. It will be just as effective as a formal, typewritten will, and will remain effective until you revoke it.

Does a Holographic Will Have to be Notarized?

Notarization is not a legal requirement of a valid holographic Will. However it is possible to add a self-proving affidavit to a holographic Will. A self-proving affidavit statement that the person making a holographic Will (the testator) signs in front of a notary public. It constitutes presumptive evidence that the testator signed the Will in accordance with state laws.

Potential Pitfalls With Holographic Wills

Many people use holographic wills in emergency situations until an attorney can prepare more formal documents. However, the law does not restrict the particular circumstances in which it is possible to use a holographic will.

Although they may seem like a cheap and easy way to handle your estate planning needs, relying on them as a primary estate planning tool can be risky. Many testators do not know the requirements for a valid will in Texas. As a result, holographic wills sometimes contain defects that lead to unnecessary expenses and delays in administering their estate.

For example, if the holographic will has ambiguous provisions, a court proceeding may be necessary to litigate the meaning of ambiguous terms. Or if it does not contain language allowing an executor to serve independently, it may require a court-supervised administration.

Complex Estate Planning Needs Require Legal Advice

Additionally, there are many situations in which it would be inadvisable to use a holographic Will. If your estate planning needs are complex, the value of your estate is significant, you are part of a blended family or you have beneficiaries who are minors or disabled, you should seek professional legal advice to ensure that your will properly addresses all relevant legal considerations.

It is also a good idea to have a formal will prepared by an attorney if you anticipate disputes among your heirs or believe that someone will likely contest the validity of your will since a holographic will may be more susceptible to challenges.

Often retaining an attorney to draft your will costs much less than fixing a mistake after you die. An attorney can help you avoid common mistakes, and in the process, give you peace of mind that your last wishes will be carried out just the way you intended.

This post was originally published on May 17, 2010, and updated on January 6, 2024.

About Rania

Rania graduated magna cum laude from South Texas College of Law Houston and is the founder of Rania Combs Law, PLLC. She has been licensed to practice law since 1994 and enjoys helping clients in Texas and North Carolina create estate plans that give them peace of mind.

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