It is sometimes amazing to see the lengths that some Floridians will go to “save” what would have been a modest attorney fee. One of the classics comes in the form of handwritten wills. The handwritten will – sometimes called a “holographic” will, because it is written wholly in one’s own handwriting – has a long history dating back hundreds of years to English common law.
Some Florida families repeat stories – many of which did not occur in Florida – in which a grandfather or other relative “was as smart as any lawyer” and wrote out his own will. They add, “It was easily probated and everything worked out just fine.” Are handwritten wills valid in Florida?
Like a Lot of Legal Questions – It Depends
As with a host of other legal matters, the validity of handwritten wills depends upon the actual facts. Here are some pointers:
- If it is actually a holographic will, that is to say, nothing appears on the paper other than the handwriting of the person who desired to make the will (“the testator”), it is not a valid Florida will. That is because Fla. Stat. § 732.502 generally requires not only that the testator sign the will at the end, but that the will also be signed by two witnesses who do so in the testator’s presence and in the presence of each other. Since a truly holographic will has nothing on the paper but the testator’s handwriting, it is merely an unwitnessed paper in writing and, therefore, not valid as a last will and testament.
- While virtually all wills are typed or printed via a PC and printer, there is nothing improper about a will written in the testator’s handwriting, as long as it is appropriately signed by the testator and by the two witnesses. In this case, however, one does not actually have a holographic will since it contains markings that are not in the testator’s handwriting.
- There is, therefore, never a reason to draft a will in one’s own handwriting. It does not do anything special to validate the will; in fact, it only muddies the waters.
- Bear in mind that just because a do-it-yourself will can be valid, it doesn’t necessary follow that the will successfully manages the testator’s assets and reflects his or her desires. Do-it-yourself documents often omit important matters and issues that should have been addressed.
Florida’s law of wills and Estate Administration is rather complicated. There is a good reason for the complexity: The state is concerned that a family’s interest in real estate, financial assets, and tangible personal property be protected and that the passage of ownership related to that property proceed in an orderly fashion following the death of the owner.
Do You Need Legal Counsel Regarding a Will or an Estate Plan?
If you need assistance in preparing your will or have concerns about the proper planning of your estate, contact the attorneys at Beller & Bustamante, P.L. today. Our attorneys offer our clients years of experience and expertise in Duval, Clay, St. Johns, Flagler, and Putnam counties. Call us at (904) 288–4414 or complete our online form.