Estate Planning During the COVID-19 Health Crisis: Holographic Wills
A holographic will is a will that is handwritten, signed and dated by the testator (the person whose will it is). Under New Jersey estate planning Law, holographic wills can be probated and will serve to ensure that the Testator’s assets are bequeathed according to the Testator’s wishes. In fact, a holographic will is valid even in the absence of witnesses. While a formal, written will with witnesses prepared by an experienced estate planning attorney is always preferable, a holographic will can be used in an emergency.
During the current health crisis, particularly for those who have tested positive for COVID-19 or those who are at particular risk, it may be better to have a holographic will than to have no will at all. However, it is important to know the requirements as well as the risks and downsides to using such a handwritten will. If at all possible, it is certainly better for everyone involved, from the testator to the executor and beneficiaries, for there to be a properly executed traditional will.
The crucial requirement under New Jersey wills and estate law, for a handwritten will to be admitted to probate in New Jersey is that the will was written by hand, signed and dated by the decedent and that the signature and key provisions are clearly written by the same hand and that the handwriting is identifiable as that of the decedent. To prove that in court usually requires testimony by a handwriting expert and/or witnesses who are familiar with the decedent’s handwriting. The holographic will must be presented to the Superior Court by an order to show cause in order to be probated, even if all interested parties agree that the will is valid and represents the decedent’s wishes and intentions about their estate.