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Are handwritten wills legal in Colorado?

A handwritten will, known as a "holographic" will, is generally legal in Colorado -- as long as the document meets certain requirements.

If you're curious about whether or not a handwritten will can hold up in court, here's what you need to know:

1. The "will" doesn't even have to be an actual will.

A will is a specific type of legal document. Generally, it must be a written document that's either been notarized or signed by two witnesses in addition to the testator.

However, something like a letter could serve in place of a will -- or alter an existing will -- under certain circumstances. The law allows the court to use documents that do not comply with the formal requirements for a will when there is "extrinsic evidence" that it was intended to express the testator's will.

2. Material portions do have to be in the testator's own hand.

While the entire will doesn't have to be handwritten, substantial portions of it need to be handwritten by the testator -- although the law does allow someone else to write it on the testator's behalf if he or she is physically unable to write. In other words, the court generally wants to see more than just the testator's signature on a piece of paper unless there's a very good reason otherwise.

3. They don't have to be witnessed.

Unlike a formal will that must be witnessed or notarized, a holographic will doesn't need witnesses. All that being said, a holographic will does present some problems. Ambiguous language may present some problems. Also, the court may question its authenticity -- which is why it's better if there are large portions written in the testator's own hand. No matter what, you can expect the court to carefully consider all possible issues before accepting a holographic will as valid.

If you've discovered a deceased relative's handwritten will, don't hesitate to seek legal assistance. It's not the sort of issue that you want to try to handle on your own -- simply because the court may have questions that you can't immediately answer.

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