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Are Handwritten Wills Legally Binding in California?

Imagine this scenario: a loved one passes away, leaving behind a handwritten note outlining their final wishes. It could be starkly different from a will they had previously created. But is this handwritten will legally binding? Will it be followed over the first and more formal will? The uncertainty can be daunting for those named in the will.

What is a Holographic Will?

A holographic will, also known as a handwritten will, is a document written entirely in the testator’s handwriting that typically contains instructions regarding the distribution of assets and other matters upon the testator’s death.

Is a Holographic Will Valid in California?

Yes, California recognizes holographic wills under certain conditions. To be valid, a holographic will must meet four main requirements:

Sound Mind: 

The document must have been written while the testator was of sound mind. This means they were not coerced and were fully aware of their actions. It would be beneficial (though not necessary) to have two witnesses present at the time of writing who will sign the document and can testify that the testator was of sound mind. These witnesses must be “disinterested”, meaning they will not be receiving anything from the will.

Handwritten by the Testator: 

The entire document must be written in the testator’s handwriting. This means no typing or dictating the will.

Intent to Create a Will: 

The testator must have intended the document to serve as their last will and testament. This can be demonstrated by the language used in the document, such as “last will and testament” or similar phrases.

Testator’s Signature: 

The testator must sign the will. This signature can be anywhere on the document. 

Although holographic wills in California don’t need to be dated, it would be wise to include the date when it was written. If another will exists and is inconsistent with the handwritten will, the handwritten will shall be deemed invalid unless it can be proven that it was executed after the first will.

When is a Handwritten Will Valid in California?

In California, a holographic will is valid if the testator is at least 18 years old and of sound mind at the time of writing the will. It should also meet the above-mentioned requirements. If any of these conditions are unmet or questionable, or if a newer version of the will is discovered, then the handwritten will may be considered invalid.

Why a Handwritten Will is Not the Best Option

While holographic wills are legally valid in California, they are not the best option for estate planning. Estate planning documents prepared by an estate planning attorney offer several advantages over handwritten wills:

  • Legal Expertise: An estate planning attorney ensures that your documents comply with California law and address all relevant legal issues.
  • Comprehensive Planning: Estate planning attorneys consider your unique circumstances and goals to create a comprehensive plan that protects your assets and minimizes taxes.
  • Avoiding Challenges: Handwritten wills may be subject to challenges, leading to costly and time-consuming legal battles. Estate planning attorneys help minimize the risk of challenges by creating clear and legally enforceable documents.

Can You Challenge a Holographic Will?

Yes, holographic wills can be challenged in court. Common reasons for challenging a holographic will include lack of testamentary capacity (sound mind), undue influence, fraud, and ambiguity. To avoid having your will contested and ensure that your exact wishes are followed after death, it’s best to prepare your estate planning documents ahead of time with an estate planning lawyer.

At Hermance Law, we understand the importance of creating a comprehensive estate plan that protects your loved ones and preserves your legacy. Our experienced estate planning attorneys are here to guide you through the process and ensure your wishes are carried out. Don’t leave your estate to chance—contact us today to schedule a consultation. Your peace of mind is our priority.

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