Most states, including Texas, recognize handwritten (or “holographic”) wills as valid. As you might expect, there are pros and cons to writing your own will. Holographic wills don’t have to be signed by a witness or notarized, and they can be drafted without the help of an attorney. On the downside, they can be attacked more easily than formal or self-proven wills. For example, probating a handwritten will requires someone you know testifying that the will is actually in your handwriting. If someone attacks the will, handwriting experts may need to be employed so that the probate process can continue. Moreover, it is much easier to challenge your competency to make the will or that you weren’t unduly influenced, since no witnesses are required at the signing.
Despite these concerns, holographic wills are perfectly acceptable in the eyes of the court, provided that the following guidelines are followed.
General requirements – To be valid in Texas, a will must be written by someone at least 18 years old, married, or in the military. They must also be of sound mind, which means that they (1) know what property they own, (2) understand that what they’re doing is writing a will, (3) have intent to do so, and (4) know that a will is meant to distribute their property after they pass.
Title – The handwritten will must be titled appropriately. For example, at the top of the page, words to the effect of “The Last Will and Testament of John Doe” should be written. This supports the notion that you intended to write a will.
How to start – To provide more support against potential attacks, it is important to start the will by stating your name and your intent in writing the will. For example, “I, John Doe, of Dallas, Texas, on this date, May 8, 2025, am of sound mind, and I am writing this holographic will with the intent of setting forth my wishes for the disposition of my estate after my death.”
Revocation of prior wills – If you have ever written any document that might be construed as a will prior to sitting down to write this new will, or had formal wills prepared for you by an attorney, you must expressly revoke any prior wills. For example, “I expressly revoke any and all prior wills and consider them invalid and without binding legal authority.” If in fact you (or a trusted loved one) possess such previous wills, they should be shredded or otherwise destroyed to prevent anyone from challenging your new holographic will as being invalid.
Who gets what – Use the next section to list who gets your property. For each of these dispositions, include an accurate description of the property to be distributed, the full name of the person you wish to have the property, along with your relationship to that person. Acceptable language might be something like, “I want my aunt, Tina Louise Turner, to receive my Titleist AP1 golf clubs and my entire collection of Native American arrowheads and spear points.”
It is possible that you want to give everything you own only to one or more individuals. If so, say something to the effect of “I wish to bequeath all of my property, both real and personal, tangible and intangible, to my brother, Earl Thomas Kennedy” or, if more than one person, “to my cousins, Minnie Pearl Rogers and Mickey Rhett Rogers, to be divided equally among them.”
What’s left – After you’ve listed all of your property dispositions, it is important to account for property that might not have been listed or that you may have forgotten, called residual property. You should include a statement that if there is anything left over, you’d like to give it to a particular person or persons. For example, “I give all of the residue of my estate to my uncle, Nolan Ryan Massey.”
Naming an executor – An “independent executor” can be named to handle the administration of your estate through the probate process. This should be a trusted loved one or advisor and can even be one of the people you’ve named to receive your property. Naming an executor is not required and is purely optional, but if no executor is named, the court will supervise the entire process, which will likely become more expensive for the loved ones you leave behind. If you wish to name an executor, use language like, “I appoint my sister, Maria Ortiz Huerta, to serve as my independent executor, to serve without bond.” You may also designate backup executors to serve in case your primary designee is unable to do so.
Naming a guardian for minor children – Another optional feature is naming a guardian for any minor children you may have. If you have children under age 18, you may wish to designate a guardian for them if you pass before they reach adulthood, using language similar to, “If my spouse does not survive me, I appoint my brother, Clint Allan Eastwood, as guardian of the persons and estates of my minor children.”
Sign and date – At the bottom of the last page of the document, make sure you sign it and indicate that day’s date.
Other helpful tips – It is important to write as legibly as possible, so your wishes won’t be misinterpreted, and that the document is well organized. Following these guidelines will help make the will more readable and effective in conveying your intent.
The entire will must be in your handwriting. No one else can write any part of it, nor can it be typed. And, if possible, it should be written in blue ink to help prove it’s the original.
Avoid making corrections or changing language in the will after it is signed, as the timing of these changes cannot be proven and could lead to challenges. It is best to make a completely new will if you wish to make changes.
If your will is more than one page long, you should number each page (e.g., “page 1 of 4”).
Staple the document along the top edge using a few staples, to help prove that no pages were added or taken away after you signed it.
Keep your will safe by putting it in an envelope and sealing it. Label the outside clearly, and tell your family and friends (and executor, if you have so chosen) that you have drafted your own will and that it’s being kept in a secure location.
While holographic wills are perfectly valid in Texas, if you have the time and resources to consult with an attorney, it is advisable to do so, as a holographic will should be considered a last resort for purposes of estate planning.