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Are Handwritten Documents Valid in Estate Planning?

Luvara Law Group LLC May 3, 2022

Handwritten Estate Plan Document

Estate planning documents are best handled with the assistance of an experienced Pennsylvania estate planning attorney. However, if you have a will or found a will belonging to a deceased person, you may be wondering whether it is valid, especially if it is a handwritten document.

With more than 75 years of combined experience and a record of successful representation of estate planning clients in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and surrounding communities including New Castle, Greensburg, Uniontown, Waynesburg, and Washington, Luvara Law Group LLC can answer your questions. We are here to listen and help.

Are Handwritten Wills Even Valid?

Handwritten estate planning documents are those usually written by the person who owns the estate, referred to as the “testator.” They may be printed, written in cursive, or a combination of the two, but they are not typed on a typewriter, computer, or other instruments.

Wills are the most common handwritten instruments. They are called “holographic wills” and are not legal in every state. They are, however, legal in Pennsylvania probate jurisdictions if executed properly.

What Is Required for a Handwritten Will to Be Valid?

In Pennsylvania, a handwritten will may be written by the testator or by someone else at the direction of the testator. To make it valid, the testator must meet the minimum requirements of all will creators. They must be at least 18 years of age, of sound mind with the capacity to understand the contents and ramifications of the will, and they must sign it with their name or mark.

Handwritten wills must be signed by two people who witness the testator’s signature. The testator must tell the witnesses the document is their last will and testament and sign the will in front of the witnesses. Then, the witnesses must sign their names attesting to the authenticity of the document. The actual contents of the will are not reviewed by the witnesses, but only the declaration of the testator and the writing of the testator’s signature.  

A handwritten will that is not witnessed and signed by those witnesses after they watch the testator sign the document renders it invalid. Two witnesses are required, so one does not suffice. Moreover, the witnesses must have no interest in the estate. In other words, neither can be a beneficiary of the estate.

What Challenges May Arise With a Handwritten Will?

The fact that the probate court with proper jurisdiction accepts the validity of a handwritten will does not mean those with an interest in the estate are excluded from challenging its validity. Handwritten documents are challenged far more often than those that are typed and executed under the guidance of an estate planning attorney.

Some of the more common challenges raised to render a will invalid include:

  • Although the will does not need to be in the handwriting of the testator, it may be more easily challenged if it is not.

  • If anything is written after the signatures of the testator and the two witnesses, the addition may be challenged. Only what appears above the signatures is assumed to be valid.

  • If any evidence exists that indicates the testator was coerced or forced to sign the will or was misled as to the contents of the will prior to signing, it may be rendered invalid.

  • If either witness is determined to have an interest in the estate, the validity of the will may be challenged.

  • The validity may be challenged by evidence of the testator’s lack of mental capacity to create a will. 

How an Experienced Attorney Can Help

A will declared invalid is like having no will at all. To protect your will and other estate planning documents from challenges, you should work with experienced estate planning attorneys to make sure they comply with Pennsylvania law.

If you are ready to begin estate planning (it’s never too early) or if you have questions about the validity of someone else’s handwritten will in or around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, call Luvara Law Group LLC.