When you hear the term “holographic will,” you might see visions of sci-fi movies dancing in your head. You might be thinking of a 3-D image from a Star Trek episode or a fantasy board game. Despite its futuristic name, a holographic will involves no technology—except maybe a fancy pen.
What Is a Holographic Will?
A holographic will is simply a will that’s written, signed and dated by hand. Yeah, it’s a weird name. We have no idea where it comes from.
Holographic wills seem simple enough, right? But they can cause a whole lot of headache for the family left behind. Don’t worry, though. You don’t have to get caught in that trap. We’ll show you the best way to make sure your family knows your last wishes—and it’s easier (and cheaper) than you think.
Most people in the 21st century create their wills using an online template or an estate attorney. But some people—especially in life-threatening situations—write their wills by hand because they don’t have the time or resources to create one another way.
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This could happen when a soldier in an active war zone writes down their last wishes in case they don’t make it back home. Or sometimes, people don’t have the know-how or resources, like a senior adult with limited finances, so they just do the best they can. A lot of people write a holographic will because it’s the easiest thing to do.
The only problem is that a holographic will may not be valid (depending on where you live), so it’s important to know what your state will allow.
Is a Handwritten Will Valid?
Many states in the U.S. honor a handwritten will, but not all of them. And even if your state does let you use a holographic will, it must meet certain requirements, such as verifying the person’s handwriting or proving the person wasn’t being forced to write the will.
What’s required to make a handwritten will valid is different from state to state. Some states (like New York and Maryland) will only accept handwritten wills from soldiers in active combat zones, but only for a short time after they’ve returned home.
Just keep in mind that states change their laws all. the. time. So even if you live in a state that recognizes a handwritten will right now, that may not be the case later.
To find out the requirements in your state, talk to your state’s probate office by email or phone (or go in person if you enjoy visiting government offices). They’ll be able to tell you which types of wills are accepted.
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Disadvantages of Holographic Wills
A holographic will may seem quick and easy, but there are some disadvantages you need to think about.
1. Legal validity
The biggest downside of handwritten wills is whether or not they’re legal. Even if you’re in a state that allows holographic wills, your family could face a big problem later on.
What happens if you move to a state that doesn’t allow handwritten wills? Or what if the state you live in changes the laws and you forget to update your will? Your family would be in a world of hurt. Remember: Laws change all the time, so you can’t assume your holographic will is going to be valid forever.
2. Locating the will
Imagine this scenario: Your grandfather dies and your grandmother swears he wrote down his last wishes back in 1972. But nobody can find any such will. The family turns the house upside down and inside out, but the will has vanished.
In the meantime, your distant cousin Cletus moves into your grandparents’ lake house because your grandfather “promised it” to him.
Yes, this can happen—and it happens more often than you’d think. A holographic will may get tucked away in some random book or wedged behind the junk drawer, lost forever. And that means stress and anxiety for the family. Not good. If your grandfather and grandmother had filed their wills electronically or with a lawyer, then your family could access it easily—and Cletus would be staying somewhere else—big headaches averted.
3. After-death expenses
You may draft a handwritten will to save yourself the cost of meeting with a lawyer. Seems like a good plan, right? Not so fast. You saved money up front, but the beneficiaries (that’s the people named in the will who get your stuff) may have to pay out the yazoo in legal fees and other expenses.
Things could get tied up in court if the will is contested or if there are no witnesses to say the person was of sound mind. So money that should go to a loved one will go to the lawyer’s bank account instead.
4. Lack of clarity
When people write their own wills by hand, those wills may not be as clear as they need to be—because folks use language and terms they think everybody else will understand.
For example, what if someone writes that all their stuff goes to “Mother”? Does that mean the wife? Does that mean a biological mother or an adoptive one? The person you call your second mom? Yikes! Talk about a mess!
The courts don’t like gray areas. They like black and white. They want everything spelled out clearly—and so should you. Otherwise, anybody can swoop in and say the dearly departed promised them everything. And then your family is stuck.
5. Leaving something out
When you create your own will with pen and paper, you run the risk of leaving out some of your assets. Picture this: You write down that your sister gets the $50,000 you stashed away in your savings account—only that account draws interest and grows to $52,000 by the time of your death. Who gets the extra $2,000? Nobody knows. Hello, probate court.
Should You Make a Holographic Will?
You’ve probably figured out that relying on a holographic will isn’t your best move. If you have a boatload of assets, you’ll want to work with a lawyer to protect and distribute that wealth if something happens to you. But if you have few assets and no kids, there’s no need to wait around in a lawyer’s office and pay extra fees just to get a will.
Instead of going through that headache or making a maybe not-so-legal handwritten will, get with a trusted company that makes creating an online will easy. All you have to do is plug in your specific information—and you can get it done in 20 minutes or less! Now you’ve got your Sunday afternoon back.
Creating your last will and testament is one of the most loving things you can do for your family (even if it’s boring). If something should happen to you, you want them to have peace of mind, not anxiety, in the midst of their grief.