Are handwritten wills valid?

Published 8:00 am Tuesday, November 22, 2022

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In previous articles, I’ve written about the importance of having a will, which basically says tells survivors exactly what the person wants to be done with his/her money, property, and all other tangible possessions. Without a will, dying intestate, the courts of the state will assign someone who knows nothing about the deceased to decide what to do with everything from money to property that was left with no written instructions.


Some people think that they must have a will done by an attorney and that it’s very costly. Maybe, but that’s not always the case. There are attorneys that will draw up a simple will for a reasonable fee. Having a will eliminates the possibility of you dying with no input as to who gets what from your estate after you’re gone. Do you really want the state to decide who among your family, relatives, and friends gets what property, home and contents, stock, bonds, cars, cash, and anything else you owned?

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On occasion, a question that comes up is, “Can I leave a handwritten will?” The answer is maybe. It depends on the state in which you live. If the handwritten (holographic) will complies with the laws of the state in which it was written it may be admitted in the post-death legal procedure known as probate. Here are some little-known facts for readers of my columns living in North and South Carolina.


North Carolina recognizes holographic (handwritten) wills in certain circumstances. A holographic will must be handwritten, not typed, or created on a computer, and MUST be entirely in the handwriting of the person making the will, known as the testator or testatrix. The maker of the will cannot have it written by someone else whose handwriting is steadier or better, then have the maker subsequently sign the will.  


The will should be written using the same color ink for the entire document – DO NOT write in pencil. The will should be kept short and limited to the front and back of a single page stating the maker’s full legal name. In North Carolina, holographic wills are valid without any witnesses, but the testator or maker of the will must still sign it in his/her own hand.


The contents of the will should identify the relationship to the maker any specific people named in the will and dated to be sure there is no confusion as to any previously written document. Upon completion, the holographic will should then be placed in a file cabinet, desk drawer or safety deposit box that can easily be located.


It’s extremely important to know that a holographic will or handwritten testament is NOT VALID in South Carolina unless it has already been validated out-of-state. This is an extremely important point because many people who have lived in North Carolina may move to a facility, new home or into a relative’s home for care in South Carolina. That holographic will must be validated in North Carolina, or it will not be allowed to be the deceased final wishes in South Carolina. This may also be true in other states throughout the nation, so it’s critical that the person making a handwritten will know the laws of the state in which he will reside at the time of his/her expected death.


After having read this, I hope you realize that having a will is important, and that a will accomplishes everything the person creating it intended. The slightest oversight on the part of the maker of the will can easily invalidate the entire document. Knowing this, my advice is to ask friends who they have used as a local, trusted lawyer, usually one who specializes in estate planning law. Call that attorney’s office and ask what s/he charges for a simple Will. I say this because you probably wouldn’t do a surgical procedure on yourself, and this too is something that should be left to a professional to be certain that it is done correctly and follows your wishes.


Ron Kauffman is a Consultant & Expert Speaker on Issues of Aging. You may contact him by phone at (828) 696-9799 or by email at: