You’ve probably heard of someone leaving a handwritten will behind — or maybe you even have a handwritten will tucked away in your own desk drawer. It seems like the easiest way to establish what you’d like to see happen with your assets and personal effects after you are gone. After all, how can a will be considered invalid when it’s clearly in your handwriting?
Here’s the problem: Florida does not recognize most handwritten wills. Also known as “holographic” wills, they don’t hold any legal weight unless they meet the narrow exception in the law. To do that, a handwritten will must be:
- Signed by the testator or signed with the testator’s name by another person while in the testator’s presence and at their direction (to account for situations where the testator is physically unable to sign for some reason)
- Signed by at least two witnesses who were in the testator’s presence and in each other’s presence at the time that the will was signed
This can cause problems if you have a will that was properly executed and otherwise valid but make handwritten changes to its terms instead of having a codicil drawn up with the changes.
In general, relying on a handwritten will or a will that you downloaded from the internet is a bad gamble. If the terms are confusing or the court declares your will to be invalid, your assets will all be distributed as if you had died “intestate,” without expressing your wishes in a will. That’s one of the biggest reasons it’s always wise to work with an estate planning attorney when you draft your end-of-life documents.