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Handwritten wills in California | What you should know

In California, it is perfectly legal to have a will written by hand instead of typed up, witnessed and signed. Known as a holographic will, this handwritten document describes how the testator wants his or her estate to be dispersed after death. As long as the holographic will complies with the state's specific legal requirements, California courts will recognize the document as valid. These basic legal requirements include:

-- The document must be composed in your own handwriting

-- The document must contain your signature

-- The document should clearly state your testamentary intentions

Interestingly, a handwritten will in California does not require witnesses. This is because a document composed in the testator's own hand implies a high level of trustworthiness. It sounds simple, right? Yes, it does, but holographic wills are not without complications.

For example, some probate judges might be cautious about recognizing the validity of the document. Even though these wills do not legally require witnesses, some judges feel they are difficult to verify if they have not been properly witnessed.

Another potential complication involves making handwritten changes to the document. When a will contains sections that have been crossed out or obviously added in, it could trigger red flags for the judge or cause confusion across the board for the court and the beneficiaries alike.

Bottom line, you want your last will and testament to be as clear as possible, leaving little to no room for doubt. While it is possible to accomplish this with a handwritten will, you will benefit from consulting with an estate planning attorney. Ensuring your will is airtight gives you peace of mind and eases the way for your loved ones.

Source: FindLaw, "Is a Handwritten Will Legally Valid?," Cynthia Hsu, accessed March 18, 2016

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