Holographic Wills

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    A holographic Will is one that has been entirely handwritten and signed by the testator.

    Normally, a Will must be signed by witnesses attesting to the validity of the testator’s signature and intent, but in many jurisdictions, unwitnessed holographic wills are treated as valid as witnessed Wills and need only to meet the normal minimal requirements in order to be probated:

    • There must be evidence that the testator actually created the Will, which can be proved through the use of witnesses, handwriting experts, or other methods.

    • The testator must have had the intellectual capacity to write the Will, although there is a presumption that a testator had such capacity unless there is evidence to the contrary.

    • The testator must be expressing a wish to direct the distribution of his estate to beneficiaries.

    Holographic Wills are common and are often created in emergency situations, such as when the testator is alone, trapped and near death.

    Jurisdictions that do not generally recognize unwitnessed holographic Wills will accordingly grant exceptions to members of the armed services who are involved in armed conflicts and sailors at sea, though in both cases, the validity of the holographic Will expires at a certain time after it is drafted.

    Holographic Wills often show that the requirements for making a valid Will are minimal. The Guinness Book of World Records lists the shortest Will in the world as “All to wife,” which was said to meet the minimum requirements. On June 8, 1948 in Saskatchewan, Canada, there was a famous case where a farmer, Cecil George Harris, trapped under his own tractor carved a Will into the fender. The fender was probated and stood as his Will. The fender is currently on display at the University of Saskatchewan College of Law law library.

    Law in various jurisdictions In the United States, unwitnessed holographic Wills are valid in around 30 states. Many states, for example New York, place tight restrictions on who may use a holographic Will. Jurisdictions that do not themselves recognise such holographic Wills may nonetheless accept them under a “foreign Wills act” if drafted in another jurisdiction in which it would be valid. Under the Louisiana Civil Code, such a Will is known as holographic”.

    In the United Kingdom, unwitnessed holographic Wills are valid in Scotland, but not in England and Wales.

    Holographic Wills need not be signed, when subscription to the writing appearing on the last page of such sheet is “your loving mother,” or words to the effect which designates the family or personal relationship, if it is a material consideration, the signature is sufficient.

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