When a loved one passes, questions may arise as to who possesses the Decedent’s Last Will and Testament. If a formal document exists that was validly executed and was drafted by an attorney, chances are that the document is a valid Last Will and Testament unless a challenge is levied against it. What may become problematic is when a handwritten document in the testator’s own handwriting is discovered. The question then becomes if this handwritten document is a valid Last Will and Testament of the Decedent. In general, a handwritten instrument of this nature is called a Holographic Will, and may be enforceable provided certain requirements are met.
Typically, Courts often do the best they can to accept as a Last Will and Testament a writing by the Decedent where it is clear that the Decedent intended the instrument to be their Last Will and Testament. That is because the Courts would rather enforce the wishes of the Decedent than to allow the document to be invalidated based upon a mere formality. Perhaps the least formal of all Last Wills and Testaments which may be admitted to Probate is a document called a Holographic Will. These documents are relatively simple and are akin to something that a Decedent wrote on a piece of notebook paper and signed. The requirements of a Holographic Will are set forth below.
In general, pursuant to N.J.S.A, 3B:3-2B, a Will can be considered a Holographic Will and admitted to Probate if the signature and the material portions of the document are in the Decedent’s handwriting. The Holographic Will must have all material testamentary provisions in the handwriting of the testator and also must be signed by the testator. What this means is that the provisions in the Will which dispose of the Decedent’s property must be in their own handwriting and not the handwriting of another. Further, the Will must be signed by the Decedent and not another party. As noted, this is a very simple instrument and is akin to a piece of notebook paper upon which a Decedent described how to transfer his/her property.
Provided the Will meets the requirements of a Holographic Will, it may be admitted to Probate and the Decedent’s Estate may be distributed in this regard. Different things could occur if not all the Decedent’s property is disposed of pursuant to a Holographic Will, however, that is best left for another blog. The purpose of this blog is to merely highlight one potentially type of valid Last Will and Testament which is informal in nature.