How to Write Your Own Will in Tennessee

Posted by John Crow | Apr 27, 2020 | 0 Comments

Governor Bill Lee recently released guidelines for his plan to reopen Tennessee's economy, and his announcement has been received with mixed reactions. Many Tennesseans, including business owners, service workers and retail employees, are eager to get back to work, but others fear that opening the economy too soon will cause an increase in COVD-19 cases throughout the state. Despite the conflicting viewpoints, one guideline continues to be supported state-wide: social distancing should be maintained as much as possible. With this precaution in mind, many residents continue to seek alternative methods for in-person legal services.

One option legal firms may offer is to replace face-to-face interaction with a technology-based platform. An executive order suspended certain requirements to make it possible to sign land notarize legal documents remotely from through May 18, 2020. For more information about remote legal services, read our blog on how you can sign legal documents from your home. However, this option is only effective if you have access to high-speed internet and video and audio technology platforms. Another option that involves less back-and-forth communication and removes technology requirements is to write your own will.

Tennessee Requirements for a Holographic Will

Writing your own will is a good option for planning for your future while staying safe in your home. For a holographic will (handwritten will) to be valid in the state of Tennessee, it must meet specific criteria. If you do not draft your will correctly, you run the risk of a court deeming your will invalid at the time of your death. When a will is ruled invalid, the contents of the will have no impact on how the court distributes the deceased's assets. This means that if you hand-write your will but it does not meet the state requirements, you have no control over who will inherit your estate.  

Holographic wills must meet the following criteria to be considered valid in the state of Tennessee:

  • Holographic wills must be actually written by you. In other words, if you decide you want to create a handwritten will, you must be the person to physically write it. You cannot dictate the will or have someone else write the will for you.
  • You must be at least 18 years of age.
  • You must be of sound mind at the time of the writing of the will.

Witness Requirements for Holographic Wills

Holographic will's witness requirements are unique. While other wills require two witnesses to be physically present for the signing, holographic wills provide a little more flexibility. Tennessee law states that witnesses of a holographic will do not need to be present for the signing. However, these witnesses must be able to verify the testator's handwriting at probate for the will to be valid. 

In light of social distancing requirements, this flexibility allows you to write your own will solely from the safety of your home. You do not necessarily need your witnesses to be physically present with you or with each other when they sign your holographic will, as long as your witnesses will be able to verify your handwriting at the time of probate.

Problems with Handwritten Wills

While having a handwritten will is better than nothing, understand there can be a few difficulties with these types of wills after you pass. Consider the following:

  • Handwritten wills are easily lost as they are in your handwriting and may not be considered important at first glance
  • These types of wills are more difficult to probate as you have to have two witnesses attest to your handwriting 
  • They are more easily contested in court, especially if you have mental impairments or there are accusations you are being influenced by someone to sign the will

Follow-up with a Licensed Attorney

The goal of estate planning is to make sure your assets remain secure after your death. During this unusual time of global pandemic, creating your own will is certainly an option. Just make sure that you follow the outlined rules above if you decide to go that route. If you choose to write your own will during this time, we recommend that you make a follow-up appointment with an attorney who focuses on making wills after social distancing requirements have been lifted. When it comes to preparing for the future of your money and properties, it's better to err on the side of caution than to risk the possibility of an invalid holographic will.        

About the Author

John Crow

John Crow is the founder of Crow Estate Planning and Probate, PLC, a boutique law firm located in Clarksville, Tennessee. He has extensive experience in guiding people through the important and often complex decisions surrounding wills, trusts, conservatorships, and business formations.

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