What’s Wrong With a Handwritten Will?

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One morning, farmer Cecil George Jones told his wife that he was going to work with his tractor on some land away from their house, and he’d be home by 10pm. When he wasn’t, she went looking for him.

It was raining when she found him lying on the ground. He was still alive, but unable to move because his entire left leg – from his ankle to his hip — was pinned under the tractor’s left wheel. The tractor only had metal wheels, no tires. On each wheel were 4-inch v-shaped metal lugs.

She rushed to get help, and with the others, was able to jack up the tractor. Her husband was still breathing, so they were able to lift him into a car. Ironically, the rain had turned the road into a muddy path, and so the friends had to use the tractor to tow the car out of the mud and up to the main, gravel road.

In the hospital, the farmer was conscious enough to say he had been pinned for 10 hours. Unfortunately, he died the next day.

He never mentioned the Will he had made.

Later that day, some friends went to the accident site and to look over the tractor. Scratched into the red fender were these words:

“In case I die in this mess I leave all to the wife. Cecil Geo. Harris.”

The friends called a local attorney who had the tractor fender removed and stored. And ultimately, the fender was taken to the local court and offered as Mr. Harris’ Last Will and Testament.

The proceeding was unusual because the last wishes were on something very unusual. And in court, these friends became witnesses, testifying that even though Mr. Harris was trapped, he was still able to reach the fender with his pocket knife, that the scratches were fresh, and the tip of the knife showed signs of fresh use.

The Harris’ banker submitted evidence as well — he recognized Mr. Harris’ handwriting – and the attending physician presented evidence, too.

And given these unusual circumstances, the court agreed to accept the fender as Mr. Harris’ Last Will and Testament, allowing his widow to inherit everything.

Over the years, other holographic wills have made the news. In one case, a holographic will was scratched into the bottom of a chest of drawers. In another (according to the Guinness Book of World Records), the shortest holographic will said ”Everything to wife” which was written on the bedroom wall of someone who was dying and sensed the end was coming quickly.

More recently, a man dying of cancer tapped his last wishes into the “Notes” app on his iPhone, and had witnesses tap their names in, too. (The fact that there were witnesses is what made this case work.)

These, however, are exceptions. We’re dealing here with what’s called a “Holographic Will,” which is essentially one you did in your own handwriting.

Most states – including Georgia – will not accept holographic wills.

Some states will allow them to be probated depending on the witness situation.

So there’s a lesson here: if somebody you know has decided to write his/her own will, let them know that they’re playing with fire.