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Blank Pages, Tractor Fenders and Other Strange but Valid Holographic Wills

Holographic wills, though irregular and informal, are recognized in most jurisdictions. The requirements for a valid holograph will in Ontario are set out in Part I of the Succession Law Reform Act:

Holograph wills

6 A testator may make a valid will wholly by his or her own handwriting and signature, without formality, and without the presence, attestation or signature of a witness.[1]

Beyond the requirements of a holographic will above, which mainly deal with the structure, the only requirement with respect to the content of the instrument itself is that it must reflect the testator’s intention. A testator must intend to make a will and give expression to his or her fixed and final intention to do so.[2]

The Tractor Will

There are a number of cases where strange circumstances challenged the validity of the holograph will. Most notably, the last will of Cecil George Harris stands out as one of the most iconic holographic wills.[3]

Harris, a Saskatchewan wheat farmer departed his home on his tractor and told his wife to expect him home around ten o’clock that night. When he did not return, his wife went to the field where she knew he was working and found him trapped under the left rear wheel of the tractor. It was well past midnight before Harris was freed from the tractor and transported to the hospital. He died the next day.

Two neighbors who had assisted in freeing Harris from the tractor remained at the scene and began examining the tractor. One of the neighbors discovered what appeared to be a handwritten will scratched into the left fender which said: “In case I die in this mess, I leave all to the wife, Cecil Geo. Harris.” The court determined that this was a valid holographic will.

The Invisible Will

A blank piece of paper turned out to contain the testamentary wishes of a blind woman. Beth A. Baer wrote her will on a piece of paper but could not tell that her pen had run out of ink. A handwriting expert managed to make out the words of the will from the indentations made by the pen on the paper. A California court probated the blank sheet in 1950.[4]

The Recipe

Margaret Nothe wrote her will in a recipe book. It said “Chop tomatoes, onions and peppers fine …. Measure tomatoes when peeled. In case I die before my husband I leave everything to him.” After her death in 1913, the page was probated under Pennsylvania law and recognized as a valid will.[5]

Covered in Blood

Alan Craig committed suicide.[6] Prior to his death he drafted a suicide note, which doubled as a holographic will. The nature of his death left the note covered in his own blood. The will was contested on the grounds that the note was not a valid holographic will and further, that it was intentionally revoked by way of physical act.

Under Michigan Law, a holographic will is valid if it is dated, signed by the testator, and the material portions are in the testator’s handwriting.[7] In this case it was determined that Alan’s note was in his own handwriting and was signed and dated by him thus constituting a valid holographic will.

The argument was put forward that Alan intentionally revoked the holographic will by intentionally soiling it with his own blood. This was quickly dismissed by the court as it could not be established that Alan intended to saturate the will with his own blood meaning Alan left a valid holographic will.

Conclusion

There are many examples of unconventional holographic wills that have accepted by courts in various jurisdictions. As weird as they may seem, courts look to the fundamental principles of a holographic will to determine their validity regardless of what they are written on.

[1] R.S.O. 1990, c. S.26, s. 6.

[2] Oosterhoff on Wills, 8th Edition, 2016, Thomson, Carswell, p. 304.

[3] Re Harris Estate (13 July 1948), Kerrobert, SK 1902 (Surr Ct).

[4] Jim D. Sarlis, From Tractor Fenders to Iphones Holographic Wills, 86 N.Y. St. B.J. 10, 12 (November/December 2014).

[5] Ibid.

[6] In re Marion R. Craig Trust, 2013 WL 1748567, (Mich. App. 2013).

[7] MCL 700.2502(2).

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