A holographic will is a will and testament that has been entirely handwritten and signed by the testator. Normally, a will must be signed by witnesses attesting to the validity of the testator’s signature and intent, but in many jurisdictions, holographic wills that have not been witnessed are treated equally to witnessed wills and need only to meet minimal requirements in order to be probated:
- There must be evidence that the testator actually created the will, which can be proved through the use of witnesses, handwriting experts, or other methods.
- The testator must have had the intellectual capacity to write the will, although there is a presumption that a testator had such capacity unless there is evidence to the contrary.
- The testator must be expressing a wish to direct the distribution of his estate to beneficiaries.
Holographic wills are common and are often created in emergency situations, such as when the testator is alone, trapped and near death. Jurisdictions that do not generally recognize unwitnessed holographic wills will accordingly grant exceptions to members of the armed services who are involved in armed conflicts and sailors at sea, though in both cases the validity of the holographic will expires at a certain time after it is drafted.
Holographic wills often show that the requirements for making a valid will are minimal. The Guinness Book of World Records lists the shortest will in the world as “All to wife,” written on the bedroom wall of a man who realized his imminent demise and made a swift attempt to distribute his chattels before expiring. It clearly meets the minimum requirements, being his own work and no one else’s. On June 8, 1948 in Saskatchewan, Canada, a farmer named Cecil George Harris who had become trapped under his own tractor carved a will into the tractor’s fender. It read “In case I die in this mess I leave all to the wife. Cecil Geo. Harris” The fender was probated and stood as his will. The fender is currently on display at the University of Saskatchewan College of Law law library.
Law in various jurisdictions
In the United States, unwitnessed holographic wills are valid in around 19 out of the 50 states. Many states, for example New York, place tight restrictions on who may use a holographic will. Jurisdictions that do not themselves recognize such holographic wills may nonetheless accept them under a “foreign wills act” if drafted in another jurisdiction in which it would be valid.Wisconsin “foreign wills act” Under the Louisiana Civil Code, such a will is known as “olographic” [sic].
In the United Kingdom, unwitnessed holographic wills were valid in Scotland until the Requirements of Writing Scotland Act 1995 which abolished the provision; such wills written after 1st August 1995 are now invalid in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Holographic wills need not be signed, when subscription to the writing appearing on the last page of such sheet is “your loving mother,” or words to the effect which designates the family or personal relationship, if it is a material consideration, the signature is sufficient. This is most commonly found in documents written in emergency situations, or those prepared by individuals who have not consulted legal advice.