Are Handwritten Documents Valid in Estate Planning?
If you’re thinking of drafting a will in Arkansas, you may be thinking about how to ensure that your will is valid. And if your relative has left behind an unusual will—such as a will in their own writing—you might have questions about the laws surrounding handwritten wills in Arkansas. If you need advice, contact us at Bond Law Office, serving the Arkansas River Valley with locations in Fayetteville and Fort Smith.
Handwritten Wills in Arkansas
A handwritten, unwitnessed will is called a “holographic will.” A normal will is usually valid if the testator is at least 18 years of age and of sound mind and if the will is signed by two witnesses who are disinterested (i.e., they do not stand to inherit anything from the testator’s estate). Wills are usually typed so that judges do not have to interpret handwriting.
Sometimes, a person may handwrite a will if they are close to death and have not yet had time to create a will in the usual manner. They might not be able to find witnesses in their current situation. A will that is handwritten for this or any other reason is legal in some states, and Arkansas is one of them.
What Must A Holographic Will Include To Make It Valid In Arkansas?
For a holographic will to be valid, these requirements must be met:
The will must be entirely in the testator’s own handwriting.
The will must be signed by the testator.
Three disinterested witnesses must verify the handwriting.
It is also important to prove that the person who wrote the holographic will actually intended to make a will. If the will contains language that states clearly that this is the testator’s will and if the will names an executor and beneficiaries, it is more likely to be considered a will and not simply notes on their existing estate plan.
The Pros of a Holographic Will
As outlined above, a holographic will is useful to some people who find themselves suddenly ill or near death without having signed a will in the presence of witnesses. Leaving behind a holographic will in Arkansas can give your intended beneficiaries a better chance of receiving their inheritance than if you had left no will at all. If you die intestate (or without a will), your estate will be divided according to state law; if you want to divide your estate in any other way than how the state would, drafting a will—even in your own writing—is always a good idea.
The Cons of a Holographic Will
If your relative has left behind a holographic will, it will most likely take longer to move through probate court. Holographic wills can be valid but require a higher burden of proof than a normal will to be validated. The court has to ascertain that the witnesses to the handwriting are disinterested—and there might not be many people, outside of family members who stand to inherit, who can testify as to the validity of the handwriting. (A handwriting analysis expert can be utilized, but this usually requires an additional fee.)
The will should also contain clear language stating that it is a will; if the person who wrote the holographic will forgot to include an important detail (such as a statement identifying the document as their will), the will’s validity may be questioned.
Plan for Anything With an Attorney’s Support
At Bond Law Office, we are here to assist you through any stage of estate planning. If you need advice concerning the validity of a holographic will in Arkansas, call our estate planning attorney at Bond Law Office, located in Fayetteville and Fort Smith and serving Harrison, Eureka Springs, Clarksville, Waldron, Mena, and Van Buren.