Lately, more and more Americans are learning the importance of having an estate plan in place due largely to growing inflation, yet a surprising few of them have actually taken the steps to write one out.
A 2023 survey conducted by Caring.com found that only 34% of Americans have an estate plan. What’s more, many people—both those with wills and those without—don’t know that there are different types of wills they can establish. Specifically, it’s important to know the difference between a handwritten will and a formal will.
Why Having a Will Is Important
For those who haven’t yet written a will, two of the most often cited reasons are that they don’t have enough assets or they’re too young. These are misguided beliefs, and the truth is everyone can benefit from having a comprehensive estate plan regardless of their age or the amount of wealth they have.
A will can do more than simply assign assets to beneficiaries; it can also name a legal guardian for any minor children (and even pets). If you die without a will in place (called dying “intestate”), your estate will go through probate and be in the hands of a judge who will assign an administrator responsible for going through all your assets and deciding who gets what—you’ll have no say in the matter. Furthermore, this process can be time-consuming and expensive and it will be your family and loved ones who are left to carry this burden. Even a simple will can reduce the stress and uncertainty your heirs will feel when you pass away.
Types of Wills
There are two types of wills you should be familiar with, a formal will (attested will) and a handwritten will (holographic will). A formal will is typically drawn up with the help of an estate planning attorney who can oversee the process and ensure it’s well-written and legally binding. They can then help you formalize the will by having it witnessed and notarized.
A handwritten will is typically done by the individual themselves with the help of a family member or friend. These wills are written by hand and witnessed by one or more people, but they’re often done without the oversight of an estate planning attorney.
Many people want to know, “Is a handwritten will valid?” and although the answer is technically yes, there are some factors you should consider before proceeding with one.
Holographic wills are permitted in the state of Ohio, with the only requirement being that it’s written on actual paper and that it’s witnessed by at least two people. There are some notable advantages and disadvantages of a handwritten will and these should be carefully weighed by the testator (the person writing the will) before deciding to use one.
One major advantage is that they can be drawn up relatively quickly in your own home and don’t require the legal services and fees of an attorney. For individuals who don’t have a lot of assets or heirs and may only have a simple will to write, a handwritten will may be the most practical option.
However, there are some distinct disadvantages to this type of will. The first is that handwritten wills are much more likely to be contested in court than formal wills. It’s possible that your beneficiaries will question the validity of it and whether or not you were fully aware of what’s included in it. There may also be issues with the actual reading of the will if the handwriting itself isn’t clear.
Rely on Compassionate Legal Advice
If you’re in the Columbus, Ohio area and would like to know more about your options for writing out a will, contact KJK Partner Gregory Williams (GLW@kjk.com; 614.427.5746) to schedule a consultation and discuss your case.