Is a hand written will legal?

Gabriel Katzner - March 19, 2022 - Wills


When Aretha Franklin,  passed away in 2018, her family and lawyer initially thought she had died without a will.But in early 2020, three handwritten wills were found in Franklin’s home in Detroit. Two from 2010 were locked in a cabinet and one from 2014 was found hidden under a couch cushion. Franklin’s attorney filed the wills in probate court   without knowing whether they were legal under Michigan law. One of Franklin’s sons questioned whether she actually wrote the wills and convinced the probate judge to allow a handwriting expert to examine the documents to verify whether the handwriting is Franklin’s. It looks like the battle over Franklin’s estate, reportedly valued at $80 million, has just begun.

You may have wondered if you need an attorney’s help or if, like Aretha Franklin you can just write your wishes on a sheet of paper. About half of all the states allow a handwritten will as long as it meets certain requirements.


A handwritten will is valid if:

At first glance, it may appear that a handwritten will is the easiest and cheapest way to dispose of your money and possessions when you pass away. However, this may not be the case for several reasons:

         1. Lengthy and expensive probate process: 

 Like other wills, a handwritten will must be admitted to and accepted by the probate court before it takes effect.  Although you may save the initial legal fees of having an estate planning attorney draft a will and/or trust, handwritten wills are   notorious for bringing complicated, expensive, and public probate proceedings and legal challenges.

          2.Inadequate expression of intentions.: 

Many people know how they want to distribute certain items, but they don’t know  the clearest and surest way to express this.

They also may not think of everything that  the will should address. For example, who will care for your children if something happens to you, or what will happen if a property recipient dies at the same time as you? What will happen to the money you set aside for your children if you die when your children are still minors? An experienced attorney can help you address these issues in a professionally drafted will or trust.

         3.Moving to a state that does not recognize handwritten wills: 

 If you are planning to move, remember that about half of all states do not allow handwritten wills. A few will recognize a handwritten will that is legally valid in the state in which it was made, but most will not.


Is a handwritten Will Valid in New York? 

A handwritten will without witnesses is valid in New York only under very limited circumstances and is not recommended. So, a handwritten will is valid, but it had to contains all the point that we recently check. Remember just writing out your wishes without the witness formality is not suggested.

Holographic wills are valid in California?

A handwritten will  also known as a “holographic” will in California. Acording with the Probate Code Section 6111 an holographic will may be valid  if the signature and “material provisions” of the will are in the handwritting. But before making a handwritting will, you should know there are other  requirements: 

  1. The person must be over 18
  2. The person must have mental capacity 
  3. It’s crucial that the person understand  what the “material provisions” of his or her will are so that they are written in the person’s handwriting as required under the Probate Code



We Can Help Ensure Your Wishes Out

A handwritten will may seem like the easiest way to make sure your beneficiaries will receive what you leave behind. It may indeed be easier and cheaper for you—but not necessarily for your family members and loved ones. Instead, you may be leaving them with months or years of court proceedings, will contests, and damaged relationships. We can help you draft a will or trust that will ensure that your wishes are fulfilled and prevent stress for your grieving family and loved ones.

You can schedule a call with us or reach us directly at 855.631.3457 to learn more about how best to plan today to protect those most important to you.

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