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Holographic wills and New York law

We use personal computers for drafting documents so commonly that it may not occur to us to handwrite a legal document, such as will. Yet every now and then, we may wonder if state law will recognize a handwritten will, since at one time people did not have access to computers or even typewriters. The fact is that in the modern era, New York law does recognize handwritten wills, but to a limited degree.

As Findlaw points out, handwritten wills are formally known as holographic wills. Close to half of the fifty states in the U.S. permit holographic wills to be valid, and while requirements may vary from state to state, generally holographic wills must be completely handwritten by the testator. These wills must be signed and dated by the testator, but unlike other wills, they do not require the signatures of witnesses.

Holographic wills are actually not a viable option for many New Yorkers. Under state law listed on the Findlaw site, holographic wills are considered valid documents if a resident is part of the U.S. armed forces in a time of naval or military service. A testator may also draft a holographic will if the testator does it while in the company of an American armed force in armed conflict. Mariners at sea can also write valid holographic wills.

State law, however, does place time limits to these holographic wills. A will can be rendered invalid if a member of the armed forces has been discharged for a year, or a year after a person has served with a military force in combat. Wills drafted by mariners have a three year limit after the time the will was made at sea.  

Generally, the military requirements of New York law allow for holographic wills because they are made under dangerous circumstances where regular access to computers, attorneys and witnesses may not be feasible. However, holographic wills can also be challenged more easily than traditional wills, and thus are not encouraged for residents in civilian life.

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