Holographic Will

Updated on January 15, 2024
Article byRutan Bhattacharyya
Edited byAshish Kumar Srivastav
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

What Is A Holographic Will?

A holographic will refers to a legal document signed, dated, and written completely in the handwriting of the individuals creating it. These documents serve as alternatives to wills that lawyers produce. Generally, people who want a straightforward and informal way to ensure everyone knows their wishes use such a will.

Holographic Will

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Such testator-signed documents are acceptable only in specific states in the United States. In addition, one must remember that these wills do not require notarization. During probate, friends, family, or handwriting experts may have to confirm the testator’s signature. Moreover, the probate must conclude that the testator was of sound mind when creating and signing the document.

Key Takeaways

  • Holographic will refer to handwritten wills that do not require notarization and may not need witnesses’ signatures. They act as the final testament of the individuals who created them.
  • Holographic will elements include the signature, address, and name of the testator, the date of will creation, name of beneficiaries, asset details, etc.
  • A noteworthy difference between holographic wills and notarial wills is that requirements are stricter for notarial wills.
  • There are challenges associated with holographic wills. For example, there is always a chance of vagueness in the case of such wills. Moreover, people might question their authenticity.

Holographic Will Explained

Holographic will refer to a handwritten document signed by the testator. People who do not have sufficient funds to appoint a lawyer and create a will can utilize such a document to make their wishes clear. Such a legal document may not require witnesses’ signature or notarization.

Like in the case of all wills, the name of every beneficiary and the assets that they shall receive must be clear. Note that the will creator may also mention conditions that must be fulfilled for the beneficiaries to receive the assets.

It is the responsibility of the will creator to ensure that the document has the date and signature. Moreover, they must ensure that the document is legible. Without these, a will cannot be legally valid.

Since such wills are informal, they lack the formal tone and structure present in a will drafted with the help of a lawyer. Although such informality provides the scope of flexibility, it may result in potential challenges.


Such a document will only be valid once it fulfills the following requirements:

1. Inclusion Of The Basic Will Elements

Such a document must include the following key details:

  • The clear intention of the testator to create the document, along with the disposition of certain property and assets, must be there. Moreover, such a document may need to include specific conditions that any beneficiary should fulfill to obtain the assets.
  • The document must explain the reason certain beneficiaries will receive specific assets, such as securities or properties. This ensures that the creator of the will was of sound mind when preparing the document.
  • Another key holographic will element that one must include is the names of the guardians of any minor children who are beneficiaries.  

2. Inclusion Of Witness’s Signature

In many states in the United States, such documents can only be valid if they have a couple of witnesses’ signatures affirming that the testator created the will. That said, in some states, such wills are valid without any witness’s signature. Thus, simply put, this requirement varies across different states in the U.S.

3. Inclusion Of Owner’s Signature

The will must have the testator’s signature. It is an essential aspect of such a document’s validity. An expert or someone familiar with the will creator verifies the signature.

4. Fully Handwritten

The document needs to be in the testator’s handwriting fully to fulfill the requirements associated with such wills.

5. Mental Capacity

Individuals must have proper mental health when they create such a will. Precisely, they need to understand the document’s nature and its effects.

6. Inclusion Of Other Components

Other key components may include the name and address of the testator and the date on which they created such an agreement.


Let us look at a few holographic will examples to understand the concept better.

Example #1

Suppose David is a person aged 70 years. His health condition has been deteriorating for the past 1 month because of a serious illness. Thinking that his health might not improve, David decided to draft a holographic will so that there is no confusion regarding asset distribution between his two sons, who are both above 18.

 In the will, he mentioned the date, the assets he owned, and how those assets must be distributed. Moreover, he stated the conditions that need to be fulfilled before the beneficiaries could receive the assets. He ensured to fulfill all requirements needed to make the completely handwritten document legally enforceable by adding his signature, stating his intention of the will, and entering the creating the will. According to the will, one son would receive all residential properties, and the other son would get all real estate properties in David’s name after his death.

Example #2

After Aretha Franklin, a popular American singer, passed away in 2018, reports suggested that she did not engage in estate planning. However, later, two holographic wills were found at her place of residence. One was dated 2010, while the other one was dated 2014. The former divided her estate almost equally among her sons.

That said, per the latter will, three sons (excluding Clearance Franklin) were to benefit from the deceased singer’s estate. This has led to a dispute in court as two of her sons, Kecalf and Edward, argued that the will dated 2014 was controlling, while another son named Ted White Jr. maintains that the first will is the actual will. Clearance Franklin has not taken part in the lawsuit. In this case, if Aretha Franklin had opted for a notarial will with the help of professional expertise, the risk of such ambiguity could have been eliminated.

Where Are Holographic Wills Accepted?

The following states in the U.S. recognize such wills:

  • California
  • Arkansas
  • Colorado
  • Arizona
  • Alaska
  • Idaho
  • Louisiana
  • Hawaii
  • Montana
  • Kentucky
  • Maine
  • Mississippi
  • Michigan
  • Nebraska
  • North Dakota
  • Nevada
  • Pennsylvania
  • New Jersey
  • South Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • Virginia
  • Wyoming
  • Wisconsin
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Tennessee
  • West Virginia

One needs to remember that the conditions with regard to acceptance vary from one state to another.

Advantages And Disadvantages

Let us look at the benefits and limitations of such a will.


  • Creating such a will is not that expensive. Hence, such a document is suitable for individuals on a budget.
  • Such a will stay private; one does not need to file it with a court.
  • One can draft such a will quickly, thus saving time.
  • Such a document allows the will creator to make their wishes clear in a meaningful and satisfying manner. 
  • Anyone without legal knowledge can create this document. In other words, knowledge regarding the legal system is not necessary to draft such a document.


  • Since one does not draft such a document with the help of legal expertise, there’s always a chance that the will could be unclear or vague, resulting in disputes among the beneficiaries.
  • Since such wills may not have notarization or witnesses’ signatures, they are prone to challenges concerning testamentary capacity and authenticity.
  • The probate process may require verification of the intentions and handwriting of the will creator. This may delay the asset distribution.
  • Such wills are not enforceable in multiple states.
  • Considering that it is a handwritten document. People may not be able to store it securely.
  • If one challenges such a document in a court of law, the cost incurred to defend the will can be very high.
  • When one creates this kind of will, there always is a risk of the testator forgetting to include crucial details in the document.

Holographic Will vs Notarial Will

It is vital to know the differences between them to avoid confusion. Hence, this table shows the distinct characteristics of each of these two types of documents. 

Holographic WillNotarial Will
Multiple states do not require witnesses’ signatures.The presence of two witnesses and their signatures on the document is mandatory.
These wills have more restrictions.These wills are subject to less restrictions.
Notarization is not necessary.In this case, notarization of the will is mandatory.
The risk of ambiguity is high.Notarial wills are associated with a low risk of ambiguity.
Drafting it does not require the help of an expert. It requires the help of professional expertise.
Typically, drafting such a will is cheap.Generally, drafting such a document costs more.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. Are holographic wills valid in New York?

Individuals must note that in New York, only wills created by any member of the United States Armed Forces are recognized. There, this kind of document stays valid only for a year after the will creator gets discharged from the military forces or for a year once the person regains their testamentary capacity, whichever occurs first. In Maryland also, such a will is acceptable in court when a member of the U.S. Armed Forces creates it.

2. Is holographic will legal in Ontario?

Yes, such a will is legally enforceable in Ontario, Canada. The will document must mention who will get the assets, and it should have the name of the estate trustee or executor. Prince Edward Island and British Columbia are two jurisdictions in Canada that do not recognize such a will.

3. What is the procedure for revoking a holographic will?

Individuals can revoke such a will by destroying the actual or original document. Alternatively, they can create a new will. It will revoke the previous one.

This has been a guide to what is Holographic Will. We explain its examples, requirements, comparison with notarial will, advantages, and disadvantages. You can learn more about financing from the following articles –

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