Can I Handwrite My Own Will?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014 | 9:22 pm

As most people have seen in the movies, a will isn’t always prepared by a lawyer, but handwritten by the person wanting to leave his or her most cherished and often times comical goods to specific people.  But would a handwritten will really work in a real-life situation? The short answer: A document written in a person’s own writing can serve as a legal will, but that comes with its own problems.

According to Alexandra Smyser, an estate planning attorney at the Law Offices of Donald P. Schweitzer in Pasadena, a will is one of our society’s oldest and best-known legal documents.  A will allows you to direct where you want your assets to go upon your passing.  It also gives you the chance to name who you want to act as the representative of your estate, and is a great way to transfer your assets after you die, if you don’t mind the expense and time needed to probate assets.

If you don’t have a will, your assets will be distributed according to the intestacy statute in the Probate Code, and that’s an entire article on its own. But, if you draft a will that is determined by the court to be legal, you can leave your assets to family, friends or even to charities.

Handwritten wills, also known as holographic wills, are legal in California, but there are certain requirements, and the court won’t give you a break on the rules just because the drafter wasn’t an attorney.  Plus, holographic wills leave many questions open.  Was the decedent mentally capable of writing a will?  Did he actually write it?  Was he being unduly influenced by others?

People who draft holographic wills are seeking to save money by not going to an attorney.  Unfortunately, this money is often spent ten-fold after the decedent’s death on legal fees in proving the document is a valid will.

Smyser recalls one case where a man left everything to his best friend in a holographic will.  “Of course John Doe’s family fought that will saying that he wasn’t in his right mind,” she said. The fight over the contested will dragged on.  So where there is a will (that’s not properly executed) there’s a way (to contest it).

There is definitely something appealing about a person putting pen to paper and in his own writing expressing his post-death wishes.  If a person wants to communicate personal sentiments to her heirs and beneficiaries after her death, Smyser suggests that this can be done in conjunction with an attorney-drafted will, giving the person the best of both worlds.

For any kind of estate planning, Smyser always suggests engaging competent and experienced legal counsel to save your beneficiaries the headache and expense of trying to prove your wishes later, when you are not around.

Alexandra Smyser is an Associate Attorney at the Law Offices of Donald P Schweitzer in Pasadena, Ca. She handles all areas of Estate Planning including trusts, wills, probates, general and limited conservatorships, and special needs trusts. For more information on estate planning contact Ms. Smyser at (626) 683-8113 or visit

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