Can I Write My Own Will? Is a Handwritten Will Valid?

handwritten will, holographic will, probate lawyerIn some cases, a handwritten Will can be considered valid and admitted to Probate Court.  Under Tennessee law, a handwritten Will is called a “Holographic Will.”  It is not necessary that the document be witnessed, but all the material provisions and the signature must be in the Testator’s handwriting.

What does “Testator” Mean?

The testator is the person who is making the Will.

How Do You Prove a Valid Handwritten Will?

The Testator’s handwriting must be proven by 2 witnesses.  Before petitioning the Probate Judge to admit the document to Probate Court as a valid Last Will and Testament, the Executor will likely have to find 2 people who can testify that the material provisions and signature are in fact written in the Testator’s handwriting.

Why We Don’t Advise Handwritten Wills

While writing your own Will seems like a simple solution to making sure your assets go where you want them to go after your death, there are many pitfalls. For example:

  • You may mistakenly believe that the disposition of certain assets will be governed by the terms of your handwritten Will.
  • A handwritten document is more easily lost.
  • A handwritten Will requires additional proof to be admitted to Probate Court.
  • When you handwrite a Will, you are likely to amend or rewrite that Will in the future.  You are more likely to leave multiple handwritten documents that contain conflicting provisions.
  • Pertinent provisions may be left out of a handwritten Will, including provisions relating to the disposition of assets or provisions that may ease the burden of administrating the Estate.
  • Many handwritten Wills are not properly executed and are unable to be admitted to Probate Court.

A Will drafted by a Probate Lawyer is likely to more clearly convey your wishes so that it can be correctly interpreted by your Executor and the Probate Court Judge after your death.

Need a Will? Call a Probate Lawyer.

If you would like to speak with a Probate Lawyer about a Will or about how to make sure your wishes are carried out after your death, give us a call at 901-372-5003 or email us today. With offices in Memphis and Nashville, you can also visit our website to learn more about our attorneys and the work that we do for our clients.

named estate representative of will

Ask the Probate Lawyer: What to do if you’re named as Executor in a Will.

Probate Lawyer for Personal Representative of Estate

If you’ve been designated to serve as the Personal Representative (sometimes also called Executor or Executrix) in a Will, you will need to hire a Probate Lawyer to handle the Estate in Probate Court. Don’t worry: the attorney fees charged by the Probate Lawyer will typically come out of the funds of the Estate, not from your own personal assets.

Once you’ve hired a Probate Lawyer, you’ll meet with the attorney and begin to gather all pertinent information. The attorney will prepare and file documents to petition the Probate Court to admit the deceased person’s Will for probate administration.

Can’t I just handle the business of the Estate Myself?

No.  In Tennessee, the administration of an Estate must be done with the assistance of a licensed  attorney. Many people mistakenly believe that if you are named as the Personal Representative in a Will, then you only need a copy of the Will and an I.D. to conduct business on behalf of the deceased person or the Estate, but this is not correct. To legally transact business on behalf of the Estate, you must be officially appointed by the Probate Court and present the proper authorization.

Do I have to go to Probate Court?

Yes, if the deceased person had assets or accounts that do not have a joint owner or a beneficiary named. You will have to go to Probate Court with the attorney to prove the Will and to be officially appointed by the Probate Judge as the Personal Representative of the Estate.  At this court appearance, the attorney will address the judge and you will be asked certain questions about the deceased person and the Will.  The Probate Judge will then review the Will and the proof and decide whether or not to admit the Will for probate. If the Will is admitted, you, as the Personal Representative, will then be sworn in as a fiduciary, and you will be issued “Letters Testamentary” or “Letters of Administration,” which will allow you to legally conduct business on behalf of the Estate.

Required Steps in Probate Administration

Once the Estate has been opened and you’ve been officially appointed to serve, you will complete the following required steps with the help of your Probate Lawyer:

(1)   Establish a separate bank account for the Estate;

(2)   Give notice to beneficiaries of the opening of the Estate;

(3)   Give notice to creditors and TennCare of the opening of the estate;

(4)   File affidavits regarding notice to beneficiaries and TennCare;

(5)   File annual accountings and inventories; and

(6)   Collect the deceased person’s assets and distribute them amongst the beneficiaries. 

Do I Get Paid for the Time and Expenses I Incur While Serving as a Personal Representative? 

Yes. A Personal Representative is entitled to reimbursement of expenses that he or she personally incurs in administering the Estate. A Personal Representative is entitled to a reasonable fee at the conclusion of the administration of the estate. However, the position is truly more of a responsibility than a profitable endeavor. There is a significant amount of work for the Personal Representative to do. The amount of the fee depends on a number of factors, which the Probate Lawyer will discuss with you. 

How long does the Probate Process take?

An Estate must remain open for a minimum of 4 months to allow creditors time to file any claims.  On average, it has been our experience that 6-9 months is a reasonable estimate of the time it takes to conclude the administration of an Estate if everything is straightforward.  In some cases, it can take 12-15 months.  If an Estate takes longer than 15 months to administer, it generally means that there has been a problem that has arisen during the process, such as a tax problem, a will contest, or even the presentation of an unknown heir.

Let us be your Probate Lawyer. We can help. 

Call us at 901-372-5003 if you need help. If you hire us, we’ll walk you through the entire process and do our best to make your job as Personal Representative as easy for you as possible. We handle probate cases throughout Tennessee and Mississippi, including in Shelby County, Memphis, Bartlett, Arlington, Germantown, and Cordova.