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Are Handwritten Documents Valid in Estate Planning?

StachlerHarmon Attorneys at Law June 16, 2022

When it comes to estate planning, people can get rightfully confused by all the various forms and documents they’ll encounter. One of the most common questions we receive about an estate plan is whether handwritten wills are valid documents in the eyes of the law. 

The answer may not always be clear, which is why you should enlist the help of an experienced estate planning attorney any time you’re drafting, reviewing, or administering a will. If you have more questions about this or any aspect of estate planning and are in the Dayton, Ohio area, contact us at StachlerHarmon Attorneys at Law to schedule an appointment. We’re able to serve clients throughout the area including Warren, Greene County, Clark County, Miamisburg, Butler County, and Preble County.

Understanding Holographic Estate Planning Documents

In legal terms, handwritten wills are referred to as “holographic documents,” and not all states permit them. They are legally binding in the state of Ohio since the only requirement is that a will be “written,” and this can be either by hand or typed. 

However, the will must still meet the same criteria as a typed will to be accepted by a judge and go through the process of probate. Additionally, you may run into problems if the will needs to be executed in another state and that state does not accept handwritten wills. Approximately half of all states accept handwritten wills, but others who may not allow them to originate in their state may nonetheless allow an out-of-state handwritten will.

All wills (and any estate planning documents) need to be signed by the testator (the person making the will), and this applies to both handwritten and typed documents. Wills must be signed by two adult witnesses. If the testator is unable to sign the will themselves (due to illness or disability for example), they can direct someone else to sign on their behalf and this will be legally binding. 

All estate planning documents must follow the rules of probate for the county in which they’re submitted. This generally means that you must file in the county that the deceased lived in, where they held real property, or where a probate court declares the will valid. 

Common Issues With Handwritten Wills 

While it is technically legal to have a handwritten will in Ohio, there are some potential concerns that can come up when trying to use them. When at all possible, you should have a will typed out to minimize any issues with legibility, even if the original document was handwritten. However, due to timing concerns, you may have no other choice but to handwrite it, or you may be the executor of a will that’s already been handwritten and you’re now responsible for seeing its way through probate.

One common problem with handwritten wills is that they are difficult to verify. These are often done without the legal guidance of an attorney and/or the witnesses may no longer be living or able to testify to its validity. To address this, you may need to provide a handwriting sample that matches the writing on the will. You may also have to provide proof that the testator was of sound mind and body when they wrote the will and that they weren’t under duress or unduly influenced by others. If at all possible, you should try to have the original witnesses be present in court when the will is proven to testify to its authenticity. 

Handwritten wills may also arouse suspicions in some judges since they are more often used as a means of coercion to ensure assets are left to certain beneficiaries. Lastly, some wills may be written using a fill-in-the-blank form, and these may be at odds with state requirements. If the testator crossed out some sections of the will or wrote over portions of the will, it may be questioned by the court. This may be a sign that someone other than the testator attempted to revise the will. As the executor or family representative, if you can’t verify the will was in fact written by the testator and that they were fully aware of its contents, it may be invalidated by a judge. 

How an Experienced Attorney Can Help 

No matter where you are in your estate planning process, when you contact StachlerHarmon Attorneys at Law, we’ll be there to walk you through the next steps and ensure you fully understand your options. This can prove especially useful if you’re obliged to execute a handwritten will or if you’re caring for a family member who is requesting a handwritten will. We can help ensure your documents are legally binding and help you reduce potential issues when going through probate. If you’re in the Dayton, Ohio area, reach out to us today to get started. We’re able to serve clients throughout the area including Warren, Greene County, Clark County, Miamisburg, Butler County, and Preble County.