Can a Letter be Treated as a Handwritten Will in Texas?

Can a handwritten letter that names an executor and does little else count as a valid will in Texas? The court addresses this in Estate of Silverman, No. 14-18-00256-CV (Tex. App.–Houston [14th Dist.] 2019).

Facts & Procedural History

The decedent was a forensic psychiatrist. Two years prior to his death, the decedent signed a letter saying that his office manager was to be the executor in the event of his death.

After the decedent died, the office manager filed an application for probate based on the letter being a holographic will. The decedent’s siblings and mother contested the application.

The probate court did not admit the holographic will, but found that the decedent died intestate. The office manager appealed, which brings us to the present court case.

Handwritten or Holographic Wills in Texas

Texas law allows for holographic wills. Holographic wills are those that are entirely in the decedent’s handwriting and that doesn’t follow all of the formalities required for wills under Texas law.

With respect to holographic wills, the appeals court notes that “courts often state that the writing must operate to transfer, convey, or dispose of the testator’s property upon death.” This is why the probate court did not admit the holographic will to probate. The probate court concluded that the letter appointed an executrix, but it did not dispose of the decedent’s property and since it did not dispose of property, it was not a valid holographic will.

On appeal, the appeals court concluded that the letter appointed an executrix. It also concluded that it was not clear whether the letter disposed of the decedent’s property. This combination of appointing an executrix and an ambiguity as to the disposition of property was sufficient.

The Takeaway

While a handwritten will is not advisable, particularly since the cost of having a will drawn by a licensed attorney in Texas is negligible, this case highlights the basic requirements of a holographic will in Texas. At a minimum, the will should identify the executor and dispose of the decedent’s property. Anything less is likely to result in a will contest or prolonged probate administration.

Do you need help with a probate matter in Houston or the surrounding area?  We are Houston probate attorneys.  We help clients navigate the probate process.   Call today for a free confidential consultation, (713) 909-4906.