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Handwritten Last Will on White Paper

Is a Handwritten Will Valid in Ohio?

The Law Office of David G. Bale June 17, 2022

A last will and testament, commonly referred to as just a will, is the most basic instrument of estate planning. Among other purposes, it is used to declare who among your loved ones and heirs receives what when you pass away.

Unfortunately, many Americans don’t even have a will in place. This can be attributed to both procrastination and ignorance. Ohio laws do set standards for how a will should be accomplished, both content- and execution-wise. If these standards are not followed, a will’s validity can be challenged.

Some people ask if they can just write out a will on a sheet or two of paper and have that be recognized as valid. The answer in Ohio is yes, provided the above-mentioned legal standards are observed, the document is clear in its intent, and the handwriting is legible.

Handwritten wills are also known as holographic wills. Holographic wills – similar to typed wills – can find heirs challenging their validity once they reach probate court. It’s always best to consult with an estate planning attorney when you compose a will to make sure everything is crystal clear and legally airtight.

If you’re in or around Westerville, Ohio, and looking to create a will or other estate planning document, contact The Law Office of David G. Bale. David Bale will meet with you, discuss your personal situation and your wishes to provide for your loved ones, and help you create a will to achieve your goals and bring peace of mind to you and your loved ones.

The Law Office of David G. Bale proudly serves clients not only in Westerville but also in Worthington, New Albany, Delaware County, and Franklin County, Ohio.

Standards for a Valid Will in Ohio

Whether holographic or in typed format, for a will to be valid in Ohio, it must observe several state-mandated requirements:

  • You must be at least 18 years old to create a will.

  • You must be of sound mind. You must understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.

  • Your decision to create a will must be free and voluntary. You cannot be under the influence or coercion of someone else while setting forth your intentions.

  • The will must be in writing (either handwritten or typed out). Digital wills are not valid in Ohio.

  • You must sign your will in the presence of two disinterested witnesses who must be at least 18 and not named as beneficiaries in your will.

Ohio does not require that wills be notarized. Some states allow wills to be “self-proving” if they are notarized, meaning the probate court does not have to call in the witnesses to the will signing to verify its validity. Ohio does not recognize self-proving wills.

What Should Be Covered in a Will?

A last will and testament, in addition to naming beneficiaries to receive your assets upon death, can also be used to name a guardian for your minor children and to state your burial/funeral preferences.

Note here that assets do not include property held jointly or life insurance policies or retirement accounts with named beneficiaries. If you co-own a property as a joint tenant, the co-owner will receive the property immediately upon your death without going through probate proceedings. 

The same is true for insurance policies and retirement funds that name someone as a beneficiary. Those transfer outside of probate court as well. Bank accounts that are termed “payable upon death” also pass along outside of probate. Only assets held in your own name can be designated in your will.

Potential Problems With Handwritten Wills

Even though it’s perfectly legal to create a handwritten will in Ohio, there are several problems that can result in confusion and even the will being challenged and ultimately rejected by the probate court.

All wills can be challenged for not having been created according to Ohio standards. For instance, a beneficiary can claim that the testator – the person creating the will – was being unduly influenced when the will was created. A spouse or child may have been “whispering in the ear” of the testator and skewing the results in their favor.

A will can also be challenged on the grounds that the testator was not of sound mind when the will was created. This is the stuff of TV dramas, as we have all witnessed, but it actually happens in real life, especially if the testator created the will late in life or during a period of physical or mental challenges.

Beneficiaries can also challenge whether the one being presented is the only will, claiming that other wills still exist. Witnesses will also have to testify that the will is the one the testator created. If witnesses cannot be found or don’t show up, the will’s validity may be legally questioned.

In addition, if the intentions stated in the will are not clear but are open to interpretation or confusion, the probate judge may conclude the will is not valid. If that happens, Ohio’s laws of intestacy – or inheritance when someone dies without a will – will be used instead. This can especially be problematic if the handwriting is difficult to read or if there are multiple line-outs and corrections in the document.

How an Experienced Attorney Can Help

Don’t leave anything to chance when it comes to providing for your loved ones after you’re gone. Consult with an attorney and rely on that person’s experience and knowledge to help you create a legally-binding, clearly-stated will that will give both you and your loved ones peace of mind going forward. Your attorney will also then have a copy of the will and can testify to its validity in court, if need be.

If you’re in or around Westerville, Ohio, contact The Law Office of David G. Bale to get started on your estate planning. Create a will that withstands any challenge and accomplishes exactly what you want it to accomplish.