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

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.

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