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COVID-19 Quick Guides: Holographic Wills in California

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By Ruth Geos, Reference Librarian

Yes, even in these technological times, and to the surprise of some, handwritten wills–called holographic wills– are a valid form of will-making in California.  Holographic wills, for their hand-crafted style, need no witnesses and no notary: making this holographic form of estate planning an accessible option during this Shelter in Place period.  A holographic will works best for simple designations, to make clear what you want on your death and who you want to have the property you own.

CA Probate Code §6111 sets out the essential elements of what makes a holographic will valid, including the key requirement that the signature and the “material provisions” of the holographic be in the handwriting of the person making the will.  Ultimately, it must sound like a will, meaning it is meant to be effective on the death of the person writing it out–but it does not need gilt edges or fancy words. One of the most extreme examples of all holographic wills is one written on a tractor fender, the will of a dying farmer scratched in the metal,  archived at the University of Saskatchewan College of Law, along with the farmer’s knife. Pen and paper would work just as well.

For more resources on this topic, see the San Francisco Law Library’s COVID-19 Quick Guides: Holographic Wills in California.  Please note that holographic wills are not recognized in every state, and that the requirements for a valid will may vary from state to state.

For a collection of broader resources on the COVID-19 crisis, see the COVID-19 Guides and Resources or contact the San Francisco Law Library reference team at reference.sfll@sfgov.org

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