Holographic Wills and Handwritten Alterations to Wills

It is common for people to change their mind about the terms of their will. While going back to a lawyer to make amendments may seem taxing or expensive, not going to your lawyer can result in complications.

In Ontario, there are strict guidelines in place for amending a will after it has been executed. Section 18 of the Succession Law Reform Act (SLRA) is concerned with the validity of alterations after a will has been executed. There are only two circumstances in which handwritten alterations to a will are valid:

  1. If it is accompanied by the signature (not just initials) of the testator as well as two witnesses.
  2. If the will is a holographic will or a codicil, it must meet the formalities associated with a holographic will (the will is made in the testator’s own handwriting and is signed by the testator).

A holographic will is a will that is written by the hand of the testator, and signed. Holographic wills are useful in cases of emergencies. However, where holographic wills are subject to litigation, the following types of disputes emerge:

  1. Whether the will is valid;
  2. Missing pages, the location of signatures;
  3. Proof that the will is in the handwriting of the deceased;
  4. Ambiguous or contradictory language, and
  5. Alternations to the will.

Although holographic wills are an inexpensive option, the formal requirements that are set out in the SLRA must be met. Otherwise, time-consuming and expensive litigation can result.

While there may be unforeseen circumstances that prevent a testator from seeing their lawyer, the best way to make changes to a will is to have a lawyer draw up a new will, or have a codicil created (a short document that states the changes one wishes to make and confirms the original will). Handwriting changes on your will or writing a holographic will can often result in expensive and unnecessary litigation.