Handwritten Wills: A Convenient Choice or a Legal Nightmare?

As an individual in Ontario considering creating a Will, you must be aware of the specific legal requirements for a Will to be considered valid in Ontario. Notably, a Will is a legal document in effect after your passing that outlines your final wishes regarding the distribution of your Estate. It has no effect before your death.

While many individuals choose to create a Will with the guidance of a lawyer, some may consider a handwritten Will, also known as a “Holograph Will”. This type of Will is recognized under Ontario law, but it’s essential to be aware of its unique requirements and potential pitfalls. By understanding these, you can play an active role in protecting your testamentary wishes.

Legal Requirements for a Handwritten Will in Ontario

A handwritten Will in Ontario must adhere to specific criteria to be valid. These requirements are in place to ensure that the Will accurately reflects the intentions of the person who created it. Here are the key requirements that you need to be aware of:

  1. Entirely Handwritten and Signed: The Will must be written entirely in the handwriting of the person making the Will (known as the Testator). It cannot be typed or partially typed. The testator must also date and sign the Will (at the end).
  2. Clear Intent: The Will must unequivocally state that it is the testator’s final testament. This means it should clearly express the testator’s wishes regarding the distribution of their assets after their death. The importance of clarity and precision in a handwritten Will cannot be emphasized enough. By ensuring your Will is clear and unambiguous, you can help prevent potential disputes among your beneficiaries.
  3. Age and Mental Capacity: The testator must be at least 18 years old and of sound mind. This means they must understand the nature and effect of making a Will, know the extent of their property, and be aware of the individuals who would normally be expected to benefit from their Estate.

Potential Issues with Handwritten Wills

While creating a handwritten Will might seem straightforward, several issues can arise that could complicate matters after your death. Here are some common problems associated with holograph Wills:

  1. Ambiguity and Lack of Clarity: One of the most significant issues with handwritten Wills is that they can be unclear or ambiguous. If the language used in the Will is not precise, it can lead to misunderstandings and disputes among beneficiaries. For example, if a testator writes, “I leave my house to my children,” it might be unclear whether this includes stepchildren or just biological children, or what house, if the Testator moved since doing their last Will.
  2. Lack of Witnesses: Unlike formal Wills, holograph Wills do not require witnesses. While this simplifies the process, it can also lead to challenges if the Will’s validity is questioned. Without witnesses, it may be difficult to prove that the Will was created voluntarily and without undue influence.
  3. Risk of Being Misplaced or Lost: Handwritten Wills can easily be misplaced, lost, or even destroyed intentionally or unintentionally. Without a copy on file with a lawyer or a secure location, your handwritten Will might never be found, leaving your Estate to be distributed according to the laws of intestacy (which apply when someone dies without a valid Will).
  4. Challenges in Court: Handwritten Wills are more likely to be challenged in court. Family members or other potential beneficiaries might argue that the Will does not accurately reflect the testator’s wishes or that the testator was not of sound mind when the Will was written. These challenges can lead to lengthy and expensive legal battles, depleting the Estate’s Assets.
  5. Outdated Provisions: Life circumstances change, and a Will written years ago may no longer reflect your current wishes. If you create a handwritten Will and fail to update it regularly, it might not consider new family members, relationship changes, or significant life events.

Real-Life Scenarios and Consequences

To better understand the potential issues with handwritten Wills, consider the following scenarios:

  • Ambiguity Leading to Disputes: John wrote a handwritten Will leaving “all my savings to my siblings.” After his death, his siblings disagreed on whether this included his retirement accounts and investments. The lack of clarity led to a lengthy court battle, delaying the distribution of the Estate.
  • Lack of Witnesses Raising Doubts: Sarah created a handwritten Will without any witnesses. After her passing, her estranged cousin challenged the Will, claiming it was created under duress. Without witnesses to confirm that Sarah wrote the Will voluntarily, the court found it invalid, and her Estate was distributed according to intestacy laws, likely not reflecting her true wishes.
  • Misplaced Will Causing Intestacy: Tom’s handwritten Will was kept in a drawer at home. Unfortunately, after his sudden death, the Will could not be found. As a result, his Estate was distributed according to intestacy laws, which did not align with his wishes.

The Benefits of Professional Estate Planning

Given the potential issues with handwritten Wills, it’s clear that involving a professional Estate Planning Lawyer can provide significant advantages. Here’s how a lawyer can help:

  1. Clarity and Precision: A Lawyer will ensure that your Will is written in clear and precise language, minimizing the risk of ambiguity and disputes.
  2. Witnesses and Validity: When you create a Will with a lawyer, it will be properly witnessed, reducing the risk of it being challenged in court.
  3. Secure Storage: Lawyers often offer secure storage for your Will, ensuring that it won’t be lost or misplaced.
  4. Regular Updates: A Lawyer can help you keep your Will up-to-date, reflecting changes in your life circumstances and ensuring your wishes are always accurately represented.
  5. Comprehensive Estate Planning: A Lawyer can provide comprehensive estate planning services beyond just creating a Will, including the creation of Powers of Attorney, Trusts, and other documents to protect your interests and those of your loved ones. The Lawyer will also provide you with options that you may not have thought of or potential scenarios that may affect your Estate in the future.


While a handwritten Will might seem simple and convenient, it comes with significant risks and potential complications. The ambiguity, lack of witnesses, risk of being misplaced, and challenges in court can all lead to undesirable outcomes.

You should only do a handwritten Will as a last resort. It’s better to seek the assistance of an Estate Planning Lawyer to ensure that your wishes are honoured, and your loved ones are taken care of.

At Droit Ouimet-McPherson Law, we focus on helping individuals create clear, legally sound Wills and comprehensive estate plans. Our experienced Lawyers will guide you through the process, providing peace of mind and protecting your legacy.

Contact us today to start the process at 343-888-8913 or advice@ottawa.law.


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