In Their Own Hand: An Analysis of Holographic Wills and Homemade Willmaking

46 Pages Posted: 15 Jan 2008 Last revised: 10 Sep 2014

See all articles by Stephen Clowney

Stephen Clowney

University of Arkansas - School of Law


Holographic wills - wills that are handwritten and unwitnessed - are traditionally thought of as a risky, do it yourself brand of estate planning. In the author's view, this is wrong. Using two years' of probate records from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, this Article demonstrates that holographs are an indispensable tool for testators who are either unwilling or unable to commission a traditional will. Homemade testaments provide a low-cost alternative to intestacy, improve the overall quantity of will-making, function as a safety-net for testators who fall suddenly ill, and rarely result in litigation. The triumph of holographic wills also suggests, strongly, that state legislatures should consider reducing the number of requirements necessary to create a formal, attorney-authored will.

Keywords: Holographic Wills, Trusts & Estates, Homemade Wills, Testation, Formalism, Attestation

Suggested Citation

Clowney, Stephen, In Their Own Hand: An Analysis of Holographic Wills and Homemade Willmaking. 43 Real Prop. Tr. & Est. L.J. 27 (2008), Available at SSRN:

Stephen Clowney (Contact Author)

University of Arkansas - School of Law ( email )

260 Waterman Hall
Fayetteville, AR 72701
United States

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