May 25th, 2018


By: Mallory N. McDonald and Heather Rooney McBride


Did you handwrite the intended disposition of your assets on a piece of notebook paper and title it as your Last Will and Testament? If so, don’t assume that merely writing down your wishes will qualify as a valid Last Will and Testament in the State of Missouri. It is a common misconception that a handwritten document intended to dispose of real and personal property upon death will suffice as a valid will.


While some states recognize handwritten wills, also known as holographic wills, Missouri does not recognize holographic wills as valid unless all of the statutory requirements are met, or the will is considered valid in the state where it was prepared and executed.  See RSMo. § 474.360 (2017); Thornbrough v. Craven, 284 Mo. 552, 447 (Mo. 1920).  When a will is found to be invalid, the testator’s wishes are not followed by the court, and the property passes in accordance with Missouri’s intestate laws. To protect your interests and avoid Missouri’s intestate laws governing the disposition of your assets, it is important to seek advice and assistance from an experienced estate planning attorney.


Estate planning is a nuanced area of law that often intersects with tax law and property law. Consequently, creating an effective estate plan requires more than a mere Last Will & Testament because a will only instructs the court on the disposition of your property and does not address the consequences that might arise from the transfer of property; nor does a will, standing alone, avoid probate court. Thus, even if a will is valid, it may not achieve all of the objectives of the testator unless applicable tax, property, and non-probate transfer issues are properly addressed.


The attorneys at RMS are knowledgeable in estate planning. If you have taken the time to write out your last wishes, make sure to take the extra step to ensure that your disposition of property is sound and that your will is recognized as a valid Last Will and Testament under Missouri law. Also, if you have a will from another state, or it has been a few years since you have had your estate plan reviewed by an attorney, consider reviewing your estate planning documents with an experienced attorney to ensure your objectives are achieved.  If you have questions about the validity of wills in Missouri, or how to create an effective and enforceable estate plan, please call and schedule an appointment with one of our estate planning attorneys.