What is Necessary to Complete a Holographic Will?
(Editor’s note: Brian is Clear Counsel’s Communications Director. His prompts represent a conglomeration of inquiries submitted. If you have you have a question you would like answered in an upcoming video, email the inquiry to email@example.com)
Jonathan: Hello. My name is Jonathan Barlow, I’m a partner attorney at Clear Counsel Law Group. I was recently talking in the office with some of our assistants here in the office about how you can actually write a will on anything. You can write it on the back of your receipt in the grocery store aisle. You could write it on a letter. That could be a valid will depending on if you follow the requirements in Nevada.
Brian, my assistant, didn’t believe me. In fact, Brian, what was your question about this?
Brian: You can’t be serious, Mr. Barlow. You’re saying if I write out a will on the back of a cocktail napkin, then, … I leave assets to my children that the court can uphold it? That can’t possibly be real. Come on.
Jonathan: It actual is, Brian. It actually is. Believe me. It’s called a “holographic will,” a hand-written will. In Nevada, there’re only three requirements to make that a valid will. Again, if you write it on the back of a napkin, and you date it in your handwriting … Let’s try. Let me be clear. One is, it’s in your handwriting. Number two, you date it. Number three, you sign it. That’s a will. That’s all Nevada says you have to have in order to have a valid holographic, or handwritten, will.
Let me tell you an interesting example, Brian. It wasn’t the back of a cocktail napkin, but a few years ago I was involved in a case where a gentleman had gone back to Oklahoma to attend his mother’s funeral. While there in Oklahoma, he was sitting in the hotel room, and he pulled out a piece of hotel stationary. You can actually see at the top of it, the name of the hotel. It’s just hotel stationary. On this he writes a letter to his long-time girlfriend. Not married. Long-time girlfriend. In that he says, “Dear Susie. I want to make sure that you get everything that I have, and that my children and my other relatives get nothing”, basically. “I intend to create a will at some point in the future. Love Bill.” The girlfriend was actually able to get that one-page letter written on hotel stationary admitted as a valid will. The kicker is, the estate was worth over two million dollars. The children were cut out of two million dollars due to a hotel stationary letter.
Yes. You can do it on a hotel … Excuse me, on a napkin. You can do it on a hotel piece of stationary as long as you meet those three requirements of, “in your handwriting,” “date it,” and “sign it.”
Brian: You’re saying that we don’t need a witness?
Jonathan: Not for a holographic will. That’s an excellent question. You don’t need a witness. You don’t need to have it notarized. All it needs to do is meet those requirements, as long as it’s in your handwriting. A common problem that we sometimes see with this is that somebody will go on the computer and type out the will, and they’ll sign it. If you do that without a witness, or without two witnesses in Nevada, then that will not be a valid will.
Again, the whole thing … At least what’s called the “Material Provisions” of the will have to be in your handwriting. Yes, it doesn’t need a witness at all. It’s really an interesting technique. Obviously, as an estate planning attorney, we don’t advise doing this technique of a holographic will because, inevitably, it causes problems, which I’m grateful to have the work for the disputed part, the litigation, but I would prefer not to do that. Yes, you can do a holographic will on any piece of paper you want, but the best practice is always to go in and visit with a good estate planning attorney and get it done formally. Yes. Meet those three requirements, and you can have a holographic will on the back of a napkin.