Well, yes you can but in order to be valid it needs to comply with that well known and thoroughly modern Wills Act of 1837. If your handwritten will (which everyone knows of course, is called a Holographic Will) fails to meet these legal requirements, it will be invalid. Then, either an old Will you had previously had prepared (and obviously wanted to change) or the Intestacy provisions as set out in law, will distribute your estate to beneficiaries you had probably not wanted to benefit.
For those familiar with finding distant relatives who might be abroad, the prospect of the looming spectre of the Intestacy provisions will cause understandable horror.
Even if your handwritten Will is legally valid, will it be clear enough to be understood and what happens if, like poor Veljko Aleksic, your handwritten Will was ambiguous in its gifting and not clear enough to know what he intended to do with his £2m+ estate?
The answer is that the Court can get involved and, sometimes, sort it all out. But at what cost in terms of legal and court fees? And think of the delay! It took 3 years to resolve Aleksic’s estate. Is it really worth risk of all this in order to save a few hundred pounds not only to get a Will professionally drawn up but to get the benefit of all the underlying advice that goes with it. We think not!
Veljko Aleksic was originally from Montenegro. Although he lived in England for decades, and became a British citizen, he never became grammatically fluent in the written language. He had no direct descendants.
Aleksic handwrote his own Will dealing with his £2m+ estate, at an unknown time in 2012, and in a highly informal style. Fortunately, it was at least signed by him and witnessed by 2 people but it did not comply with other formalities.
No one was specifically named as an Executor, the Probate Registry did not like the term describing someone to be “in charge” and so there was no one entitled to apply for Grant of Probate. Letters of Administration were eventually obtained after a friend and 2 solicitors, one of whom was a Serbian speaker, got involved and once extra evidence was obtained from the witnesses.
Much of the wording was not clear – notably, it left most of his £2m estate to the Serbian Orthodox Church without specifying which of the several churches he meant.
One cash legacy of £10,000 was left to 'Brit. Cancer Research' but there is no such organisation.
Another cash legacy went to someone, but the words immediately following the name, containing the amount to be given, had been obliterated. Then, after what was obviously a telephone number, the words '£2.000. Two' appear.
Other passages only added to the confusion.
The cancer charity legacy was resolved but it required an application to the Attorney General's Office for the bequest to be disposed of by Her Majesty under the Royal Sign Manual, dividing the legacy between a number of named British cancer research charities.
For the other irregularities, the administrators had to go to court for guidance.
Luckily for everyone, the Judge took a pragmatic approach. Aleksic's poor English, he said, complicated the task of ascertaining his intention – but did not alter it. 'Bad English can still make a good will, as long as the testator's meaning can be understood', he said. 'Despite the difficulties, most of what the will provides is clear.' Using various other documents, and consulting the extensive legal literature on irregular wills, as well as Montenegrin law, he was able to determine the distribution of the estate without resorting to any partial intestacy.
So it can be sorted out, probably, but at what cost in terms of legal fees and delays?
If you would like to discuss the preparation of a Will please contact Helen Taylor TEP on 01604 828282 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or contact Kathryn Thornewill on 01908 660966 or by email on email@example.com.