Holographic wills--do witnesses have to read them?

I just read a story that took place in London. It was a minor plot point that a holographic could not be accepted because one witness could not testify that she had read the will although she had witnessed the signature. Is this correct? Would it be correct in the US or Canada? I have the impression that all a witness does is certify that the person who was alleged to have signed it did so. Certainly when I had things notarized that’s all the notary did.

My recollection of typical state law in the US is that the whole point of a holographic will is that witnesses are not needed at all. The fact that the will is written in the deceased’s hand is verification enough.

As to a conventional typewritten will with witnesses, what I have always seen is that the witnesses are attesting to having witnessed the deceased, who was known to them, signing the will. They are not making any statement about the content of the will or representing that they have read it.

UK law may differ.

Yeah, in general, witnesses are there to state that they saw a person sign the document, not that they personally know what was in the document that was being signed. The purpose of the witness is to authenticate that the signature is by who it claims to be, and made freely.

I agree with Tom Tildrum - the point of a holographic will I’d that it doesn’t need witnesses.

In the story, the will was disallowed because one of the witnesses said she didn’t know what she was witnessing (the other witness was dead). It didn’t make sense to me but I hope some Brit will sign in.

In practical terms, the reason you don’t need the witness to testify about the contents of the will is because the court can determine the contents of the will itself – by reading it. :cool:

The witnesses to a will do not have to know the contents of the will. It makes no difference whether the will is holographic or not. This is the law in Ireland and in Australia, and I’m pretty sure it’s the law in England also.

Strictly speaking, I’m not sure that the witnesses even need to know that the document whose execution they are witnessing is a will at all, though it’s hard to imagine realistic circumstances where they wouldn’t know at least that.

Would the question ever arise: Is the document before the court the same one that the witness saw being signed? What if the document the witness saw being signed was just the deceased’s rent check to the landlord, but the witness didn’t know that? Then a different document, the will, is shown in court and the witness can’t say for sure if that was the document he saw the deceased sign?

The witnesses sign the will as witnesses, so if they didn’t see the testator sign it, their signatures won’t be on it. If somebody has forged their signatures on it, then they can give evidence that “this is not my handwriting or my signature”, and probably also that “this looks nothing like the document that I witnessed”. (A rent cheque looks nothing like a will.)

There is of course the possibility that they might have witnessed a pefectly genuine will, which is later substituted with a very similar-looking will but with one or two crucial clauses having been altered, and with the testator’s and witnesses’ signature all expertly and convincingly forged. That might never come to light.

It is of course commonly the case that by the time a will comes to be admitted to probate the witnesses are long dead. So strategies which rely on witnesses surviving to authenticate a well are not very practical ones.

In the story, the way you know that it wasn’t a rent check is that the signature and the witnesses’ signature were on the same piece of paper as the will. It made no sense to me and wasn’t even necessary in the story.

Mystery writers, even good ones, tend to be awful on matters of law.

Ellery Queen, one of the greats, had a couple of plots that depended on holographic wills. But he set those in New York, where holographic wills are not accepted. Oops.

For a contrary approach, read Sayers’ Unnatural Death, where the plot is driven largely by the Wills Act of 1837 and the Law of Property Act, 1925.

As best as I can tell, she got it right.

So can someone tell me how having a 3-dimensional image of a will is better than a 2-dimensional piece of paper? I need to know if I should get a hologram of my will made…

Okay, got it!