Many people are surprised to hear that handwritten wills are actually authorized by Oklahoma law. While we do not recommend this as your final or complete estate plan, a handwritten will can serve as a temporary tool to give you peace of mind that in the event you pass away before you get around to making a formal and customized estate plan, something is in place for your loved ones to follow. There are three important requirements for a valid handwritten will in Oklahoma:
1) The will must be entirely handwritten in the hand of the testator himself (the testator is the maker of the will);
2) The will must be dated at the bottom in the hand of the testator himself; and
3) The will must be signed at the bottom in the hand of the testator himself.
You should not have the handwritten will notarized or signed by witnesses.
While there are many important issues to think about when creating an estate plan, your temporary handwritten will should, at a minimum, state that it is intended to be your Last Will and Testament, and it should include the name of your spouse and the names of all your children (whether living, deceased, natural, or adopted)– regardless of whether you want to leave something to each of your children. The will should also name who you want to serve as your estate Executor after you pass away (the person in charge of paying your bills and ensuring your property is distributed in the way your will instructs), and an alternate Executor who will serve in the event the first Executor is unable to do so.
The will should describe what real property, personal property, tangible property, and intangible property you want to be distributed to whom (or to what entity/organization), and what should happen to each person’s share if that person dies before distribution of their share of your estate.
You must keep the original handwritten will in a safe place where your loved ones can find it after you pass away. You should tell your Executor and alternate Executor where you are keeping your original will.
Keep in mind that many important issues should be considered when making your estate plan, and every family dynamic is different. If you have young children, it is likely you would want to nominate a guardian to care for your children in the event you pass away before your children become adults, and you may want to instruct that your assets be held in trust for your children’s benefit until your children reach a certain age (which does not have to be the age of 18). If you have a blended family with step-children, you may want to ensure that your children or your spouse’s children are not left out simply because their parent dies first. The list of various family circumstances to consider is long, and your specific situation dictates the estate planning tools that should be used for you.
There are many risks associated with making your own handwritten will, including, but not limited to, the risk that the instructions you write in your will are too unclear as to your intent, and could subject your will to more than one interpretation. Other risks include, but are not limited to, the risk that important provisions are left out of your will, such as a residuary clause or a spendthrift provision. There is also a risk that a handwriting expert could be necessary to verify that the will was in fact made entirely in your own handwriting in the event anyone interested in your estate contests the will after you pass away.
Therefore, while a customized estate plan created with an attorney is always the best and most complete strategy, a handwritten will is a small step toward estate planning that may get you by until you take the initiative to make your formal estate plan. We all know that many people put off estate planning for years– and sometimes forever. Sitting down and going through the process of handwriting your own will may be a realistic step to at least get you thinking about how you want your estate to be distributed and who you want to be in charge. Then, when you are ready to formalize your wishes, you can contact an attorney to create your custom estate plan.
The Oklahoma statute on holographic wills is located here.
If you are interested in learning more about estate planning, our firm offers a free estate planning consultation and can help answer any questions you have. Please feel free to contact us by phone at 918-782-0000 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cassandra L. Coats is a partner at Lee|Coats Law firm in Vinita, Oklahoma. While Lee|Coats Law is a full-service law firm, Cassandra focuses her practice on estate planning, as well as adoption, guardianship, probate, real estate, contract, and personal injury law.