Is a Handwritten Will Valid in California?

May 14, 2009 by Scott C. Soady

A will that is written in one's own hand is called a holographic will and is valid in California. The basic requirements are:
1. The document must be completely written in the handwriting of the Testator (the individual creating the will).
2. The will must be dated and signed.
3. The will must be legible.
4. The will must clearly state what assets are being left to whom.
Although not a requirement, it is helpful if the will is witnessed by two witnesses or even better, notarized.

Most often holographic wills are written on stationery, notepads, paper, or even envelopes, however there are some interesting cases where people used ingenious substances in the absence of paper. In Canada, there was the famous case of a farmer trapped under his tractor so he carved a will into the tractor's fender. The fender was actually probated and held to be a valid will. The fender is on display at a law school in Canada.

Another unusual case was the so-called "petticoat will" in California. A man was in a Los Angeles hospital and fearing his imminent demise, wanted to write his will but could not find a piece of paper. A nurse tore off a piece of her "petticoat" on which he wrote his will.

One of the shortest "wills" on record was one which said "All to wife" written on a bedroom wall. Another individual carved a "will" on a wooden plank from his rocking chair. One deceased tried to carve her will on a watermelon.

The problems with these informal wills is that they often result in a legal battle over their validity. Often people don't realize there are some requirements for them to be valid. True, holographic wills are simple to create and may be necessary in an emergency, but often can turn out to cause problems never anticpated by the Testator. If you need a well written will or better yet, a trust, the experienced estate planners at Law Office of Scott C. Soady, A Professional Corporation are a call or a click away.