Is a Handwritten Will Valid in Massachusetts?

A handwritten will may be valid in Massachusetts, so long as all other legal requirements are satisfied, including those concerning signing, the will being witnessed by at least two people, the testator being of sound mind, and the absence of fraud.

What is a Holographic Will?

A holographic will is also a handwritten will that is signed by the testator.  However, a holographic is not signed by any witnesses.  In other words, the only “witness” to a holographic will is the person writing the will. In Massachusetts, holographic wills are not valid.

Why?

In large part, because if issues arise after a testator’s death, there are no witnesses who can speak to important concerns that may arise.  While the handwriting on the will may exactly match the handwriting of the testator (and thus leave no doubt that the testator actually wrote the will), who can verify that the testator was not experiencing undue duress when writing the will?

As an extreme example, was the beneficiary of the will was pointing a gun at the head of the testator, telling her exactly what to write?  Or was the testator drunk or under the influence of drugs, and did not appreciate what they were doing?  Or was the testator experiencing a cognitive medical event?

Because of these possibilities – extreme as they may be – Massachusetts courts won’t provide validity to holographic wills because there are no witnesses that can address these types of issues.

What Happens When a Will is Not Valid in Massachusetts?

In the case of a holographic will, or another case in which a “will” deemed to be invalid, the courts will first attempt to determine whether another valid will exists that has not been revoked.  If there is such a will, then that will governs the distribution of the estate.

However, if there is no valid will, then the person will be deemed to have died intestate.  When a person dies intestate, Massachusetts law prescribes how assets will be distributed.

The provisions of a holographic or otherwise “invalid” will have no legal merit.  As a result, suppose a person writes a holographic will and specifically states that they do not want one of their three children to receive any assets, because that child has a substance abuse addiction or is otherwise not in a position to adequately manage an inheritance.  If there is not a valid will, and if the three children are the heirs under intestate distribution law, they will each inherit one-third of the estate, even though the parent specifically did not want this outcome.