Handwritten Will Valid or Not?
From time to time, I get questions about handwritten wills. In particular, is a handwritten will valid? This is a loaded question. The response to the question will be based on Maryland law.
Here’s a scenario that was presented to me:
Mr. Bob Smith was sitting around one evening relaxing and enjoying the late evening sunset and warm breeze. He started thinking about what he wanted to give to his children and grandchildren if something were to happen to him. He jotted down a few notes, used his best cursive writing, made a few strikethroughs , signed the paper and thought to himself – I now have a will.
What do you think? Mr. Smith’s notes a valid will? Can he give his property away based on the notes? Upon his death, Mr. Smith wants to give his:
- Bank account (cash) to his oldest son.
- Retirement account to his daughter.
- Award winning muscle car to his oldest grandchild.
- Family heirloom watch to his youngest son.
- Real estate (primary residence and beach condo) to his three children to sale and share the proceeds equally.
Is this a valid will? In Maryland, a handwritten will is not valid. However, there is an exception for a person serving in the United States military:
1. A will entirely in the handwriting of a person (“Testator”) who is serving in the armed services of the United States is a valid “holographic” will if signed by the testator: outside of a state of the United States, the District of Columbia, or a territory of the United States, even if there are no attesting witnesses.
2. A holographic will is void one year after the discharge of the testator from the armed services unless the testator has died prior to expiration of the year or does not then possess the capacity to make a will.
Jotting notes on a piece of paper and calling it a will is a waste of time , unless you meet the criteria outlined above. Get your estate plan in place – with of course a valid will.
The information in this post is intended for informational purposes only and not to provide legal advice. Consult with an estate planning attorney about your particular situation.
Aquanetta J. Betts is an attorney and speaker. She is licensed in Washington D.C., and Maryland. Her practice focuses on the areas of wills, trusts, estates and planned giving. Connect with her on Twitter @AquanettaBetts.
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