Understanding Holographic Wills

The internet provides us with a wealth of information at our fingertips. Unfortunately, some less scrupulous websites take advantage of the trust many people put into the internet and provide less than sound legal advice on important issues – like creating a Will and/or a trust. Sometimes, people mistakenly believe the advice they find on the internet, which can be wholly incorrect or only applicable in certain jurisdictions. One problem many individuals come up against is believing that they have a valid Last Will and Testament but what they really have is known as a holographic will.

What is a holographic will?

Basically, a holographic will is a will that has been entirely handwritten and then signed by the testator. Typically, such wills do not have witness signatures. For any Will to be valid, it must comply with the statutes governing trusts and estates in the respective state that the Will is being created and/or administered in. Sometimes, a state will allow a Will to be administered if it was created in another state and would have otherwise been valid in the state where it was created even if it contradicts the administering state’s laws. For the most part, holographic wills are invalid in most states.

How does New York approach holographic wills?

Holographic wills are frowned upon in New York. In fact, New York’s courts will not allow holographic wills from any other jurisdiction even if such wills were legal in the jurisdiction in which they were created. The only exception to this is if a member of the armed forces is serving in a combat zone or is part of the merchant marines and creates a handwritten holographic will. Such holographic wills will be valid in New York for one year after the individual has finished active duty service.

New York and many other states frown on holographic wills as a matter of policy. While you may think you should be able to draft your Will without the legal formalities often associated with it, the state prohibits admitting such holographic wills to probate as a matter of protection for individuals across the state. While you may draft a perfectly acceptable and otherwise valid will, there is no accurate way to prove that you created that will once you have passed on or that the will you created was not altered in some way by just about anyone that could have the opportunity to come into contact with it. Even keeping a holographic will safe and secure in a safe deposit box or other area that is difficult to access will not provide a valid framework for the will.

Many times, individuals may think that saving the time and expense often associated with working with an experienced estate planning attorney will help them preserve more of their estate to pass on to their heirs – especially those with smaller estates. Unfortunately, failing to execute a valid Will can actually result in a great deal of your estate being lost and you being unable to distribute it according to your wishes. The initial investment that you make could save you and your loved ones a lot of hardship down the road.

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