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What is a Holographic Will?

by Rania Combs

holographic will

Can you imagine writing your will on your bedroom wall? How about the fender of your vehicle?

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the shortest will in the world consisted of three words — “All to wife”– written on the bedroom wall of a man who realized his death was imminent.  In 1948, a farmer in Canada trapped under his tractor carved “In case I die in this mess I leave all to the wife. Cecil Geo. Harris” into his tractor’s fender. The fender was probated as his will.

Each state and country has different rules about what constitutes a valid will. So a will valid in one jurisdiction may not be valid in another. But Texas does authorize the use of holographic wills, a handwritten will, which dispense with some of the formalities required for typewritten or formal wills.

Requirements for Holographic Wills in Texas

A holographic Will is a handwritten will. In order to be valid in Texas, a holographic Will must be wholly in the handwriting of the person making the Will (the testator) and signed by him or her. It is also customary to date the Will.

A testator can write a holographic will on anything, including stationery. It is not necessary for witnesses to sign a holographic Will; however, it is still necessary for the testator to have testamentary capacity and testamentary intent when making the Will.

Testamentary capacity means the the testator must be of sound mind. Testamentary intent means the Testator intended to make a writing that dictates how his property will be distributed after his death .

Do Holographic Wills Expire?

In Texas, a holographic Will is a valid Will. It will be just as effective as a formal, typewritten Will, and will remain effective until you revoke it.

Potential Pitfalls With Holographic Wills

Holographic wills are often used in emergency situations until more formal documents can be drafted. However, the law does not restrict the particular circumstances in which they can be used. Although they may seem like a cheap and easy way to handle your estate planning needs, relying on them as a primary estate planning tool can be risky.

Many testators do not know the requirements for a valid will in Texas. As a result, holographic wills sometimes contain defects which lead to unnecessary expenses and delays in administering their estate.

For example, if the holographic will has ambiguous provisions, a court proceeding may be necessary to construe the meaning of ambiguous terms. Or if it does not contain language allowing an executor to serve independently, it may require a court-supervised administration.

Often retaining an attorney to draft your will costs much less than fixing a mistake after you die. An attorney can help you avoid common mistakes, and in the process, give you peace of mind that your last wishes will be carried out just the way you intended.

This post was originally published on May 17, 2010, and updated on April 8, 2020.


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Comments

  1. Marcus

    February 12, 2016 at 3:21am

    I have written my wishes in my own hand and signed also in own hand. I want everything to go to a specific person. Problem is that I have been married for a very long time to another person. Does my wife have any legal standing that would over ride my holographic will that leaves her nothing.

    1. Rania Combs

      February 26, 2016 at 7:33pm

      Texas authorizes the use of holographic wills. It is also possible to disinherit a spouse in Texas. That being said, holographic wills are easier to contest than attested Wills because there are no witnesses. If you want to make sure that your wishes are carried out, engage a lawyer to prepare your Will.

      1. Hannah Jane

        August 2, 2019 at 5:25pm

        My aunt wants to make a change to her original will. She wrote it on paper, one witness, and she signed it. That peice of paper is lost and only a cell phone picture of the paper is in hand. Would that still change her will after she passes?

        1. Rania Combs

          October 14, 2019 at 11:37am

          If the holographic Will has been lost, a testator can create a new one. Or better yet, she can contact an attorney who can prepare a Will that will address all her concerns and testamentary wishes.

  2. Linda shields

    October 25, 2016 at 4:16pm

    Does a handwritten will need two witnesses in the state of Texas?

    1. Rania Combs

      November 30, 2016 at 4:12pm

      No.

  3. Sue Fisher

    February 16, 2017 at 3:42pm

    Can I type my will? I have arthritics and I can’t write it but I can type.

    1. Rania Combs

      February 17, 2017 at 1:33pm

      If the will is typewritten, it will not be a holographic Will. The following article discusses the requirements of a valid Will in Texas: The Requirement of a Valid Will in Texas.

  4. gdburb

    May 16, 2017 at 10:50am

    Is a holographic will in Texas still legal if I do include two witnesses? I know they aren’t required. But, are they prohibited?

    1. Rania Combs

      May 30, 2017 at 4:12pm

      The signature of witnesses will not invalidate an otherwise valid holographic Will.

  5. Lakeshia Walton

    June 8, 2017 at 4:36pm

    If a holographic will is incomplete, meaning the testator did not finish the last paragraph before they passed away, is it a valid will. Can it still be offered into probate?

    1. Rania Combs

      June 16, 2017 at 6:24pm

      A holographic will would be valid if it is wholly in the handwriting of the testator and signed by him or her.

  6. Martha Soria

    September 13, 2017 at 11:08pm

    If a will in handwriting, and and notarized will it be , valid

    1. Rania Combs

      October 11, 2017 at 9:38am

      There is no requirement for a holographic Will to be notarized; however, it is possible to add a self-proving affidavit to a holographic Will to eliminate the need for testimony from two people familiar with the testator’s own handwriting to prove it up.

  7. Chelsea Morgan

    October 10, 2017 at 10:06pm

    If I am a widow with children and get remarried, when I pass away who will get all my assets if I do not make a holographic will?

    1. Rania Combs

      October 11, 2017 at 9:16am

      If you don’t have a Will, the Texas intestacy statutes control. The following article describes what happens if you die without a Will in Texas: The Texas Intestacy Statues.

  8. Rick

    July 22, 2018 at 11:33am

    I’m unmarried (widower) and have one adult married daughter and a baby granddaughter. I have made a holographic will in Texas and request everything left to my daughter. Can I also designate my assets left to my granddaughter (if something happens to my daughter) in a new, revised holographic will?

    1. Rania Combs

      July 29, 2018 at 11:35am

      It is possible to revoke a prior Will and create a new one. Please consult with a lawyer to discuss the best way to accomplish your wishes.

  9. Kenneth

    October 13, 2018 at 9:39pm

    Hello! Your information is very much appreciated.

    My question is, can you hand write the Will, but print out the specifics? Such as who gets what, what funeral service you want, and what the person handling the estate need as far as getting into bank accounts and such?

    That would be a LOT of information to have to write out. Can the main body of the Will be on one hand written sheet and everything else typed up on another?

    1. Rania Combs

      October 15, 2018 at 11:09am

      The statute says that a holographic will is one “written wholly in the testator’s handwriting.”

  10. September

    February 18, 2019 at 9:20pm

    If I decide to leave all my assets and belongings to a sibling if he survives me instead of my children, or for everything to be sold and put into trust funds for my grandchildren’s education, if he should pre-decease me, would that be accept as long as it is all hand-written and signed?

    1. Rania Combs

      February 19, 2019 at 12:50pm

      Holographic Wills are recognized as valid Wills in Texas. A testator is not required to leave his or her estate to children. That being said, if you intent to disinherit your children or to create trusts for grandchildren, I recommend that you seek the services of a lawyer rather than preparing a holographic Will to ensure your wishes will be carried out.

  11. Shannon Cole

    June 17, 2019 at 10:53am

    Me and my husband have both typed up wills. I know we need 2-3 witnesses and our signatures notarized but do the witnesses have to be there to watch us sign with the notary and can they sign without the notary?

    1. Rania Combs

      July 18, 2019 at 12:02pm

      The following article discusses the requirements of a valid Will in Texas: The Requirements of a Valid Will in Texas.

  12. bob slentz

    July 27, 2019 at 8:56am

    For a holographic will to be “legal” in Texas does it have to be in my cursive or can I print, by my own hand in ink, as I do in my normal day to day writing? (I never use cursive)

    1. Rania Combs

      July 29, 2019 at 1:49pm

      It does not have to be written in cursive.

  13. Susan Watts

    November 6, 2019 at 6:48pm

    Can real property be transferred with a handwritten will?
    Thx.

    1. Rania Combs

      November 18, 2019 at 2:26pm

      A holographic Will can dispose of all property of a testator.

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