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Are Handwritten Wills Legal in N.Y.?

Are handwritten wills legal in New York? Otherwise known as holographic wills, handwritten wills are not usually the preferred way of entering a will into the legal system for validity.

While formal will requirements vary from state to state, they generally encompass some combination of being signed by the testator, with witnesses present at the time of execution.

New York's formal will statute in particular has the following requirements for a formal will:

  • That it is signed "at the end thereof" by the testator; and
  • That it is signed in the presence of at least two witnesses, who must also sign the will and include their names and addresses.

If, for some reason, the testator is unable to sign, he can assign another person to sign, as long as that person also includes his or her name, address, and signature.

Those are the requirements for a formal will. So what about a handwritten (non-formal) will? What is it exactly, and are they legal in New York?

Handwritten Wills: Only for a Few Good Men and Women

Despite a handwritten will not meeting the requirements for a formal will, it can still be valid. What are the requirements for a valid, handwritten will?

First of all, New York requires that a valid handwritten will be one that is written completely in the handwriting of the testator.

That's only the first step, however. Just because a handwritten will itself meets the requirements of a holographic will doesn't necessarily mean that it'll ultimately be valid.

Not only does the testator have to write the entire will in his own handwriting, but New York probate law narrowly limits this option only to members of the armed forces -- those who are engaged in military service during an armed conflict, along with mariners at sea. The rationale behind this is that the urgency of their special situation abroad gives them a free pass to not have to worry about formal will requirements.

However, once the member of the armed forces or mariner at sea is either discharged or returns home, then their handwritten will becomes invalid after a certain expiration date (usually a year after).

Bottom line: New York's law on handwritten wills is fairly strict, and if you're looking into writing a will, going the formal route is your best bet.

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