Beware of the Handwritten Will!
3 min read

Beware of the Handwritten Will!

What is a holographic Will? This article provides the basics on what a holographic or handwritten Will is, and why you should avoid it to save your loved ones from unnecessary stress and confusion. Keep reading to learn more.

Share this article:

When actor Kristoff St. John unexpectedly died at age 53, his 19-year-old daughter Paris filed a motion to be appointed administrator of his estate because he didn’t have a will when he passed away. Or did he? Just weeks after Paris filed her motion, St. John’s father filed a motion with the probate court to be administrator of his son’s estate, citing an August 12, 2017 “will” that made him the executor. Under the purported will, St. John’s assets would be split between his two daughters, Lola and Paris. However, Lola was to receive 75%, while Paris received the other 25%. For the next three years, Paris and her grandfather battled for control of St. John’s estate.  If St. John really had a will, why was there a battle at all? Well, unfortunately, he ran into a common problem:  the ambiguity of a handwritten will.

What is a Holographic Will?

A “holographic will” is a handwritten or typed document that is signed by the person who passed away. In some states, handwritten wills are valid but in others, they are not legal.

Which States Allow a Handwritten or Holographic Will? 

Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

States that recognize handwritten Wills have minimum requirements in order for them to be legal:   

  • The person had to have written it themselves.

  • The person has to have had the mental capacity to write a last will and testament.

  • The handwriting must contain the person’s wishes regarding the disbursement of their personal property.  

Some states that don’t legally recognize holographic Wills will allow the Will if it was written within a jurisdiction where these wills are accepted. This is known as a “foreign wills provision.” Which states recognize out-of-state holographic wills? Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Minnesota, New Mexico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Washington.

What if the Handwriting Isn’t Clear?

So what was this St. John handwritten will?  His ex-wife explained that it was simply pages from a journal. The handwritten notes found in the journal said that he wanted to give his father a $100,000 check for his daughter Lola.  The note said, “He must give money to Lola immediately.” He requested Paris receive a lump sum.

St. John’s first ex-wife, Mia St. John, bristled at suggestions that St. John didn’t have his affairs in order.  "I've heard a lot of people say, like, 'Well, I can't believe he didn't have his affair in order.' Well, he did have his affairs in order," she added. "I mean, he had a life insurance policy — I was the beneficiary…. I talked to him every day, and he trusted me, which is why he left me the life insurance — because he knew that there is no way I would go against his wishes.” 

With all due respect to Mia St. John, no, the late soap opera star did not have his affairs in order.  

St. John’ diary notes are an example of an unclear holographic will. Paris said she thought her father’s estate was worth $122,000.  Where did the $100,000 bequest to Lola come from - was it part of the $122,000? Did St. John give a check to his father?  Since Lola is underage, did St. John mean to create a  trust fund for her? And what about the insurance policy that listed Mia as the beneficiary?  Although she said that he knew she would honor his wishes, as his former wife, she had no formal, legal right to make any decisions regarding his estate. 

How to Avoid the Perils of the Handwritten Will

You already know that it’s better to have a will or trust that determines what happens to your assets after you pass away.  But that doesn’t mean you should just jot down a few notes. St. John’s diary notes were littered with items that had been crossed out and written over.  This left a lot for the court to sort out - and you know what that means – his family members had to pay lawyers, dwindling the value of the estate. You need a real will that is valid in your state, to make sure that you don’t prolong the probate process and create friction between members of your family.  

Scroll Down
Share this article:
Let’s begin! First, what’s your name?

Your name that’s stated on your driver’s license, birth certificate, or passport.