The Legal Validity Of Handwritten Wills

A handwritten will, known as a “holographic” will, can be legally valid in Pennsylvania under certain conditions. The validity and enforceability of such a will depend on several factors determined by the state’s probate laws. Contact a Pennsylvania estate planning attorney about wills today.

Considerations When Determining The Validity Of A Handwritten Will

  • Requirements for Validity: The will must be entirely in the testator’s handwriting (the person making the will) to ensure its authenticity. The testator must sign the will. This signature typically needs to be at the end of the will to indicate that the testator intended the document to constitute their will and that they finalized their intentions in the document. Although not strictly required, including the date on a handwritten will can be beneficial, especially if there are multiple wills, to establish which is the most recent one. Interestingly, Pennsylvania does not require a handwritten will to be witnessed. However, one of the best ways to ensure a handwritten will is accepted is to have the will signed by two or more neutral witnesses. In addition, during probate, witnesses may be required to prove that the handwriting and signature are indeed the deceased’s.
  • Intent and Capacity: The document must clearly indicate the testator’s intent to make a testamentary disposition of their property. This means it should be evident that the document is intended to serve as their last will. The testator must have the legal capacity to create a will, which generally means they are of sound mind, understand the nature of the will, recognize the property they are disposing of and know who the beneficiaries are.
  • Content of the Will: The will should clearly identify the beneficiaries, although they do not necessarily need to be named explicitly if they can be otherwise determined. The will should also specify how the testator’s property will be distributed. This section needs to be clear to help prevent disputes among potential heirs.
  • Probate and Challenges: A handwritten will can be legally valid, but it might face more scrutiny in probate court than a typewritten, formally witnessed one. Handwritten wills are more susceptible to challenges based on allegations of lack of capacity, undue influence, or fraud. Ensuring clarity in the handwriting and the testator’s intentions can minimize such risks.
  • Practical Considerations: The handwriting must be clear and legible to avoid misinterpretations and legal complications.
  • Professional Advice: Due to the complexities and potential for challenge, it is advisable for individuals considering a handwritten will to consult with an attorney. This can help ensure that the testator has properly drafted the will, which is more likely to be upheld in court.

Takeaway

Handwritten wills in Pennsylvania are indeed valid if they meet specific statutory criteria, primarily focused on the handwriting and signature of the testator, as well as explicit expressions of intent and testamentary capacity. However, due to their nature, they can be prone to challenges and complications in probate. For these reasons, while a handwritten will can be a quick and private way to arrange one’s affairs, seeking legal advice to ensure its effectiveness is highly recommended. Jones Gregg Creehan & Gerace has highly experienced estate planning and probate attorneys who can help you draft your will or examine the validity of one you have already drafted.