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Is a Hand-Written Will Valid in Michigan? 

Steven L. Rotenberg, PLLC April 9, 2024

Old man with paper and pen about to write his last willMichigan law does recognize handwritten (or holographic) wills. Section 700.2502 of the Estates and Protected Individuals Code (EPIC) states that a will entirely in the testator's handwriting and signed by the testator can be valid even without witnesses.  

But what do these terms mean? And is a hand-written will the best option for you? 

Steven L. Rotenberg, PLLC can give you the legal guidance you need when considering your estate planning options or undergoing the probate process. If you need immediate assistance, contact the Michigan firm today to set up an initial consultation.  

What Is a Holographic Will? 

A holographic will is hand-written by the testator (the person making the will), with no requirement for formal witnessing. Its essence lies in the personal touch — it directly reflects the intentions of the deceased, unfiltered by the input of witnesses or a notary public.  

This kind of will can manifest from a sudden recognition of mortality, a dire emergency, or simply an aversion to the formality and cost that typifies more conventional will-making. 

Holographic vs. Traditional Wills 

For Michigan residents contemplating their wills, the choice between a traditional will and a holographic will reflects not just the testator's preference but the earnest consideration of their legacy. 

The core distinction between a holographic will and a traditional will lies in legality and formality. A traditional will, to be valid, typically necessitates the presence of competent witnesses and often, notarization. Holographic wills, on the other hand, can be executed entirely in the testator's own hand, with no witness signatures required. 

Michigan Requirements for Holographic Wills 

While Michigan is permissive of handwritten wills, it's equally stringent about what makes them valid. These specific requirements must be met: 

  • Entirely in Testator’s Handwriting: The entire content of the will must be in the testator’s own handwriting. A will that combines pre-printed forms and handwritten text is not considered holographic. 

  • Testator's Signature: The will must be signed by the testator to indicate that the document is indeed their will. If the testator is unable to sign, a direction by them to another person to sign on their behalf in their presence is acceptable. 

  • Material Provisions: Material parts of the will, such as the distribution of the estate and appointment of any executors, must be entirely in the testator’s handwriting. 

A critical aspect of a valid holographic will in Michigan is that though witnesses aren’t mandated, there is no room for ambiguous intent. The document must unequivocally reflect the testator's final wishes. 

Advantages of a Holographic Will 

The autonomous nature of holographic wills offers several advantages. They lend themselves to simple, straightforward changes that can be made without the need for witnesses and provide a non-formulaic space for the testator's personal expression.  

In emergencies or situations where accessing witnesses is impractical, a holographic will stands as a pragmatic and expeditious solution. 

Potential Downsides and Challenges 

The informality that can be advantageous in one context can be a potential pitfall in another. Without the safeguard of witnesses, holographic wills are more susceptible to challenges on grounds of authenticity, fraud, or a lack of testamentary capacity.  

The absence of witnesses also eliminates the opportunity for witnesses to validate the testator's soundness of mind and freedom from undue influence. 

Factors to Consider When Making a Holographic Will 

While the option to create a holographic will may be tempting, especially in the immediacy of needing to get one's affairs in order, there are several factors to consider: 

  • Clarity and Detail: The clarity of expression and comprehensiveness of the document are paramount. Ambiguity can lead to disputes and can potentially invalidate the will. 

  • Legibility and Language: The handwriting of the testator should be legible, and the language used should be unequivocally testamentary in nature. Confusion due to poor penmanship or the use of colloquial or ambiguous terms can render parts of the will or the entire document invalid. 

  • Revocation of Previous Wills: A holographic will should specify the revocation of any previous wills explicitly. Without this, disputes may arise regarding which will holds precedence. 

Protecting Your Hand-written Will in Michigan 

To ensure the validity of a holographic will in Michigan, there are some steps that the testator can take: 

  • Store the Will Safely: Keep the holographic will in a secure place, clearly labeled and easily accessible to prevent misplacement or destruction. 

  • Share Intentions: While not a formal requirement, communicating the contents of the holographic will with family members or potential beneficiaries can help avoid surprises and subsequent legal challenges. 

  • Regular Review: Regularly reviewing and updating the holographic will as circumstances change can help maintain its relevance and prevent disputes over outdated or incomplete provisions. 

The Role of Legal Counsel 

An estate plan, crafted with foresight and ideally guided by legal expertise, is a testament to the care and diligence invested in ensuring that one's final wishes are honored in full.  

The complexity of estate law and the gravity of the decisions involved emphasize the importance of consulting with an estate planning attorney. Legal advice can offer clarity on the best approach for your specific circumstances, minimize the risk of future litigation, and ensure that your testament stands faithfully as a guide for your heirs and beneficiaries.  

An experienced attorney like Steven L. Rotenberg can also advocate for you in trial if needed. Holographic wills are often contested due to their informality, and having a knowledgeable legal professional on your side can make all the difference. 

Steven L. Rotenberg Offers Dedicated Support 

While holographic wills provide flexibility and autonomy, they come with significant caveats. Michigan’s permissiveness toward this type of will demands both caution and intentionality from the testator.  

To ensure that your will is valid and reflective of your intentions, contact Steven L. Rotenberg, PLLC today for a consultation. The firm's estate planning attorneys are committed to providing personalized guidance and support so you can have peace of mind knowing your final wishes will be honored.