A new client, Allen, recently asked about holographic wills. Having come from a state where they are commonly accepted, he wondered whether his simple, handwritten document would be valid here in Missouri. He then asked whether they are advisable.
The answer is a little complicated. Holographic wills are valid in Missouri, but only when they meet the same requirements as typewritten wills. For several reasons, however, we do not recommend them.
We talked with Allen about his wishes, his goals, and the shortcomings of holographic wills in general. At the end of our discussion Allen decided to complete and fund a proper estate plan.
Side note: as a rule, estate planning documents should be reviewed when moving across state lines.
Not All States Accept Holographic Wills
Missouri is one of several states that does not accept the simplest version of holographic wills. In our view, this aspect of Missouri law serves its citizens well. In a pinch, they are better than nothing. But, even when executed well, their shortcomings often create problems for remaining family members.
If your goal is to plan well, take care of your family, and enjoy the peace of mind that comes from proper planning, there’s no substitute for working with an estate planning specialist.
What is a Holographic Will?
A holographic will is one that has been handwritten by the person to whom the will applies, otherwise known as the testator. It’s the simplest instrument possible used to make the individual’s wishes known. They’re sometimes completed in haste, with little planning. As such, they typically create problems.
In its simplest form, the requirements are very minimal. The handwritten will must be signed by the individual in their normal signature. Those are the basic requirements, but other details differ from one state to another. In many states, for example, the “material portion,” or most impactful sections of the will must be in the testator’s own handwriting. Other states require the entire document to be in the individual’s hand.
Missouri’s Requirements for a Proper Holographic Will
Despite their shortcomings, Missouri accepts holographic wills. But not in their simplest version. Here in the Show-Me State, the requirements are more robust. In fact, handwritten wills must follow the same guidelines as typewritten documents. The third point is not required by several states.
- The testator must be over 18 years old.
- The testator must sign the will.
- The testator’s signature must be witnessed by two people who sign in the testator’s presence.
The Shortcomings of Holographic Wills
As simple as they are, holographic wills are open to conflict. They are much more easily challenged in court than properly crafted estate planning documents. Unfortunately, when mistakes are made with handwritten wills, they’re not discovered until it’s too late. Family members then have to deal with the consequences.
Some of the most common shortcomings of holographic wills relate to ambiguities, errors, and a failure to name an executor, guardians, or contingent beneficiaries. They fail to address special situations. And, because they’re rarely updated, they fail to cover changing conditions related to assets or family relationships.
No Substitute for Proper Estate Planning
Estate Planning is about both preserving and properly distributing wealth. No matter their economic status, the clients we serve tell us they want three basic things:
- They want the assurance that their wishes will be carried out and their family will be taken care of
- They want to avoid the expense and hassle of probate
- They want their assets to be preserved and maximized in light of long-term care expenses
How Will You Prepare for the Best Outcome?
Holographic wills are valid in the state of Missouri if they meet the requirements. While legally acceptable, a properly drafted will is not enough to provide the best outcome for you and your family. A trust and other complementary documents are typically recommended.
Get on the road to peace of mind. Start with a thoughtful consultation with a highly qualified attorney to determine the best way to meet your family and asset goals. That conversation will help you determine how to set up your will and your trust, and what documents need to be completed.