Is a holographic Will valid in Arizona? Yes. Is it a good idea? No.

Arizona recognizes a handwritten Will, known as “holographic will”,  so long as it is signed by the testator and the material provsions are in the testator’s handwriting.   Material provisions are the provisions that designate beneficiaries and their share of the estate/gifts. The writing must indicate that the testator intends and wants to dispose of his or her property in the writing.  A holographic will may be witnessed but does not have to be. Although this may seem a simple way to plan your estate, it can be very problematic as most people fail to consider all aspects of a properly drafted Will and leave out important material provisions or use unclear language that creates opportunity for conflict and creates undue cost and delay in estate administration.

WARNING: Failure to comply with statutory requirements may render a purported Will invalid even if it accurately reflects the testator’s wishes. Vice versa, a Will with unclear or conflicting provisions may result in a valid Will with distributions inconsistent with the testator’s wishes. The real problem is that you will not know there is a problem until after the testator dies, when it is too late to make corrections.

Holographic Wills often are the perfect example of the old adage “penny wise and pound foolish”. Regardless the size of the estate, it is always recommended to have experienced estate planning attorney prepare your Will and other documents, such as financial and medical powers of attorney or Trust. The cost of unnecessary litigation and strained family relationships is never worth the pennies “saved” by the DIY approach. It is a sure fire way to leave a mess, and not a legacy.

A timely example is the Estate of Aretha Franklin. When she died in 2018, her family believed she died without a Will (intestate) and proceeded to open probate and have her niece appointed as Personal Representative of the Estate. Intestate law would leave her estate to her four adult sons, in equal shares. Recently, however, last month three alleged handwritten Wills were discovered and submitted to the Court which purport to detail a specific plan on how to distribute her estate. These holographic Wills were found in a cabinet and under couch cushions in her home.  Certain provisions of the Wills are vague and even difficult to read in parts, and her sons are now at odds about the validity of the latest 2014 holographic Will. We may never know why Ms. Franklin decided to write her own Wills and why she apparently told no one about them. What is certain is that Ms. Franklin’s holographic Wills have already created big problems.

If would like to leave a legacy and not a mess, please call us to schedule an appointment. We can help you set up an estate plan that will work when the time comes.

-Stephanie A. Bivens, Esq.