Last month, this blog looked at the ongoing legal drama surrounding the probate of former Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh’s estate. While that post focused on distribution of an estate when a person dies intestate (dies without a will), this post will focus on an interesting detail of the Hsieh case — namely whether Mr. Hsieh’s writings might qualify as a holographic will.
It has been reported that Mr. Hsieh’s home was papered with sticky notes, which included everything from “life mantras” to “financial deals.” Since there has been no reporting that any of the parties seeking to inherit from his estate has claimed the sticky notes are a holographic will, it can be assumed these notes don’t meet the legal requirements of a holographic will. Yet, this leads us to the question of what exactly is a holographic will?
How to Make a Holographic Will
The notion of someone suddenly producing a dearly departed loved one’s final letter or other handwritten document laying out their final wishes is plot twist we expect to see in stories. But these handwritten documents (known in Texas as “holographic wills”) are recognized in nearly half the United States as valid wills.
While every state addresses the requirements for a holographic will differently, to have a valid holographic will in Texas, you merely need the document to be (1) entirely in the testator’s handwriting, and (2) signed by the testator. Sounds almost too easy.
Wait Just a Moment
If all that’s required is the document is handwritten with a signature, some may be wondering why go a lawyer in the first place. Turns out there’s a very good reason, namely the headaches holographic wills create for those left behind. While a holographic will may lay out the specific gifts you may want to make, more goes into a will than gifting instructions. Included in the will your lawyer drafts for you are instructions and decisions the probate court will want answered in order to ensure a smooth and fair estate administration. While a lawyer would know to include those parts, a layman likely wouldn’t.
These lapses in details can leave your loved ones in the frustrating position of you dying partially testate and partially intestate. This predicament creates headaches and can slow down the probate process. Additionally, probating a holographic will causes extra expense, because it will be necessary to prove to the court that the will was written entirely in the testator’s handwriting. This causes extra headaches and extra attorney fees.
Why Even Have a Holographic Will?
So, if holographic wills create more headaches than they solve, why even recognize them as valid? Even if they miss some crucial technical details, a holographic will can provide a dying loved one with peace. Most often holographic wills are used in emergencies, when people know their death is imminent and wish to exercise some control during a very frightening time.
Now What do I do?
Even if finding a last letter laying out final wishes does sound like a plot point, these things have obviously happened. So, if you’ve had a loved one pass away, and you’re not sure if they have a holographic will or not, reaching out to an estate planning attorney can help shine a light on what documents you have and what the next steps are in any probate process. Nielsen Law PLLC provides family focused estate planning to individuals and families in Austin, Round Rock, Cedar Park, and the Central Texas area. For more information and to learn about our firm, please contact us.