Morbid question regarding wills

The scene of that woman in United 93* telling someone that her will was in her safe made me think of this. If in a situtation like that if one of the passengers had called his answering machine and made a verbal will would it be valid? What if he wrote it on a notepad on the airplane and the paper survived intact? I remember something about a farmer having a tractor collapse on him and writing his will on the side, is that just and urban legend?

I’m a Canuck, and know that wills are generally governed by state, or province, so the rules change depending were you are. The handwritten signed will you refer to is valid in only one province in Canada that I know of (Manitoba).

If you made a handwritten will on the plane, stated in it that it revokes all previous wills, and have it clearly signed by two witnesses with their addresses, it would probably stand. All wills can be contested so you can never be sure your wishes will be carried out. Especially if you new will substantially changes an older will. Beneficiaries could question whether or not you were of sound mind while contemplating death on a plane.

IANAL etc. A verbal will is not valid in any jurisdiction in the US that I’m aware of. Every state sets out the requirements for a valid will and IIRC they all require that it be written, signed and witnessed.

That would be a valid will, assuming that it met the legal requirements for validity in the state where it’s probated (probably the home state of the testator).

Sounds like a UL since scrawling a will on the side of a tractor wouldn’t be properly witnessed. Now, a probate court may take such a writing into consideration, but would not be bound by it. A number of states recognize a letter written separately from a will to handle specific bequests (“I want Tilly to have my wedding ring” sorts of things) so the tractor scrawl might possibly qualify as that if it’s in such a state.

So you have to do your will in mime or something?

“Sounds like…Pancackes! What sounds like pancakes? No, wait, it’s what he’s pouring on the pancakes…Syrup! No! Maple syrup–Aunt Mabel! So, you’re leaving the antique china to Aunt Mabel!”

From a website about wills:

As you and others have mentioned, it’ll vary based on jurisdiction - but generally a holographic will (see Mikemike2’s link) doesn’t require witnesses to be valid.


The notepad will would be a holograhpic will, like the tractor fender (which wikipedia says is on display in the law library at the University of Saskatchewan, by the way). Holographic wills are generally exceptions to witnessing requirements in wills, so long as the will is wholly in the testators handwriting, signed by the testator, and appears to have present testementary effect. There are other examples of holographic wills being written in the bottom of a desk drawer, on a satchel, and on the wall in a bar men’s room (which was cut out and brought to court).

Not being handwritten is a deal breaker, though, and the in extremis answering machine will wouldn’t meet the requirements of either a holographic will or a witnessed will. I would hazard a guess that it wouldn’t be a valid will in any American jurisdiction.

Does that mean that all the video-wills that get shown on TV shows are invalid?

People really do make video wills occassionally, but they’re generally videos of the person reading the written will and explaining why bequests were or were not made. The video can help establish the person’s competency if the will is contested, but the written will still controls.

The answer to this question will obviously depend on the jurisdiction. In my state (NSW) the appropriate legislation is clear that a will, to be valid, must be in writing: *Wills, Probate and Administration Act * 1898, section 7(1)(a)

A basic Google search says you’re both wrong – at least as regards the specific question by the OP as to the emergency nature of flight 93.

Granted, it does say that oral wills are generally not valid, but there is a specific exception in just the scenario outlined by the OP.

No disrespect to Google, but no, that’s an exception that wouldn’t apply to the OP’s question either. That’s what’s known as a “nuncupative will,” also known as a deathbed will. Generally they’re disallowed, but in a small minority of states, nuncupative wills can be of limited validity if the person is in extremis and the will is made with knowledge of impending death that prevents the person from drafting a proper will.

However, even a nuncupative will must be made before two or more disinterested witnesses and reduced to writing under the direction of at least one of them shortly thereafter, and even then it can only devise personalty and not real property. In the OP’s scenario, there just aren’t any qualified witnesses present who will be able to attest to the will after it’s been reduced to writing.