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What is a Holographic Will?

Should you DIY your own will and does it hold up in court? Here are answers to frequently asked questions and the pros and cons of holographic wills. 

Maybe you’re planning an international vacation and you want to make sure that in the event something happens to you or your spouse, your children will be well cared for by the person of your choice. Maybe you were born into the Bezos family and want to secure your multibillion-dollar inheritance. Maybe you won the lottery and want to make sure that when you pass, a hefty sum of money goes to every animal shelter in the Northern Hemisphere. Whatever your final wishes may be, if you’ve ever wondered how to write your own last will and testament, look no further. Here’s how it works.

Writing Your Own Will: A How-To

Step 1: Take out a piece of paper and a pen or pencil. Yes, actual pen and paper.  

Step 2: Write your will. It should look something like this: “I, [your name], leave my entire estate to my wife, Jane Smith.”  Or, “I, Elizabeth Client, leave my estate equally to my children, Anna, Barry, and Chris.”  Personalize this with your name and the names of your beneficiaries.

Step 3: Sign your will.

Voila! You (probably) have a valid will. For bonus points, write “Will” at the top so your family knows what they’re looking at. Not necessary, but a nice touch. If that feels too easy, you might have some questions right now. Let’s answer a few of them.

Couple sits down together to write their last will and testament.

What is a holographic will?

Writing out your own will and signing it yourself is called a holographic will and is typically considered valid in the state of Virginia. While this method is almost effortless and doesn’t cost you anything, it may not be the best or safest option. Aside from the important fact that the will was written by a layperson and not a lawyer or your holographic will contains unclear language or spurs uncertainty, this cheap and easy method could cost your loved ones more than just money after you’re gone.

Does a holographic will hold up in court? 

A holographic will, or a will written by the testator, is typically considered valid in the state of Virginia, even without witnesses or a notary. 

What if important details are missed in a holographic will? 

You might also be wondering, “What about my minor children? Who’s going to watch them?”  Or, “What about charitable gifts I want to make?” or “What about an Executor?  Don’t I need one of those?” Or even more generally, “…isn’t there supposed to be more stuff in here?” 

These are all great questions and all of this should 100% be included in a good will. The key word there is good will. This post is about writing a will. Every client is unique and every situation is a little different. So although a one-sentence will might be a valid legal document in Virginia, it’s probably not an adequate expression of your final wishes, nor can you guarantee they will be carried out. 

Writing a Holographic Will: The Bottom Line

Sure you can go online and print out your own will pretty cheaply, just like you can scrawl out your last wishes in crayon on a dirty napkin if you like. To recap, the pros of a holographic will are:

  • A holographic will is free
  • A holographic will is easy
  • A holographic will can be made anywhere, including your local Waffle House
  • A holographic will has legal standing in Virginia
  • You can use your favorite color crayon in your holographic will

But the old adage “You get what you pay for” does ring true in this scenario when you consider the risks of a holographic will:

  • Holographic wills often omit important information that adversely affects your loved ones after you die
  • Holographic wills are not written by an experienced lawyer, leaving room for uncertainty, ambiguity, and potential inaccuracies, making your will prime for disputes, invalidity, or being contested by family members
  • Holographic wills often do not have witnesses to their creation, giving no proof that the testator wrote it
  • Holographic wills could be illegible because they are handwritten, adding more room for error

In short, your DIY will may have been free, easy, and even serve as a “valid” will. But probably what you want more than a piece of paper that says “will” on it, is the peace of mind of knowing you’re providing an ironclad plan for your loved ones after you’re gone. More than just a document, you want a plan that provides guidance and comfort to your family, so they know what your wishes are and so they can honor you by upholding them. Your loved ones are going to be stressed and overwhelmed and grieving at your loss—and one of the last new memories they have of you could either be finding a crumpled piece of paper stuffed in the back of a drawer with your hastily-written instructions on it, or finding a clear plan, crafted with the help of a professional and stored among your important documents, showing that you took the time to provide guidance and direction to your loved ones at a time when they needed it most.

It is important to ensure that your or your loved one’s final wishes are respected, and in certain situations, a holographic will may be the only option, but given the potential concerns of ambiguity, errors, and critical omissions, a formal will prepared with an estate lawyer’s advice will be far superior to—and protect you more than—a holographic will.

Mobile Estate Planning Made Easy

The process of getting a legitimate will in place for you and your family can be overwhelming, confusing, and costly, but it doesn’t have to be! At Assurest, we offer simple, affordable solutions for your legal needs and make the process easy by coming to you for the conversation—meeting you in your home or, if you prefer, virtually or over the phone.

Serving Richmond, Virginia and beyond, our experienced and trustworthy professionals simplify the process using clear, understandable language free of legal jargon and provide flat-rate packages, so you’re never surprised by the bill. Contact us today and rest assured that your affairs are in order and your loved ones are protected.

Disclaimer: This material is intended for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.  Responses to inquiries, whether by email, telephone, or other means, do not constitute legal advice, nor do they create or imply the existence of an attorney-client relationship.

Written By
Matthew Reinaker
January 30, 2023
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