Understanding Holographic Wills

New York only recognizes handwritten wills in very limited circumstances

A Last Will and Testament (will) is an important estate planning document that specifies what you want done with your property after you die. Some people think that they can write down their wishes without creating a form will. Generally, these wills are not valid in New York.

New York State has specific requirements for wills:

  • Age. The person creating the will must be at least 18 years old.
  • Capacity. The person creating the will must be capable of making decisions and sound reasoning.
  • Signatures. The will must be signed by and include the person’s name of the person making the will or signed by a designated representative in the presence of the person making the will.
  • Two witnesses. The will must be signed by two witnesses.
  • Written. The will must be in writing, except in very limited cases.
  • Beneficiaries. The will should designate who will receive property.

While many states recognize wills that do not conform to these requirements, New York only makes exceptions for nuncupative and holographic wills under very specific circumstances. A nuncupative will is an oral or unwritten will. A holographic will is a handwritten will that is entirely in the person’s own handwriting.

Oral and handwritten wills created under dire circumstances

You might have heard stories about wills written on the back of an envelope or whispered during the last hours of someone’s life. In many states, these nuncupative and holographic wills are honored by the courts. In New York State, nuncupative and holographic wills are only recognized when they are made by:

  • A member of the United States armed forces who serves during a war or other conflict. In this case, the will may be valid up to a year after the person has been discharged from the armed forces
  • A person who serves with or accompanies United States armed forces engaged in a war or other conflict. In this case, the will may be valid up to a year after the person stopped serving with or accompanying the armed forces
  • A mariner while at sea. In this case, the will may be valid until three years after the will was made

Like other wills, to be recognized by the courts in New York State, holographic and nuncupative wills must have evidence or witnesses that can establish the will’s validity. In addition, the person creating the handwritten or oral will must not be mentally impaired and must be at least 18 years old. An experienced New York estate lawyer can help you establish (or contest) the validity of a holographic or nuncupative will or create a valid will in New York.

A knowledgeable New York estate planning attorney can help ensure your will is valid

The estate administration attorneys at Lissner & Lissner LLP provide skilled legal counsel to ensure that your will and estate plan protect your assets and your family. Located in midtown Manhattan, we have been helping our clients with their estate plans for more than 65 years.We can also help you establish or challenge the validity of a holographic or oral will. If you have questions about a will, call (212) 307-1499 or contact us online today.

Micheal Lissner
About the Author: Michael Lissner
Micheal D. Lissner is an experienced trust and estate planning and administration attorney serving the New York City area. He handles cases ranging from estate planning to trust administration, medicaid planning, elder law, and representation of survivors of the Holocaust and their heirs