In Texas, handwritten wills are enforceable if they meet certain criteria. To be valid, a holographic will “must be signed by the testator and wholly in the testator’s handwriting.” Ajudani v. Walker, 177 S.W.3d 415, 418 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 2005, no pet.). Of course, many interesting issues arise in determining whether a handwritten instrument is truly a valid will. For example, in the recent case of Estate of Silverman of the Houston Court of Appeals held that fact issues existed as to whether the handwritten instrument was in fact a will disposing of the decedent’s property after death. 14-18-00256-CV, 2019 WL 2352457 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] June 4, 2019, no pet. h.). As a result, the Court reversed the trial court’s summary judgment rendered in favor of the contestants of the hand-written will.
In the Estate of Silverman, “Seth Warren Silverman wrote the following on a piece of paper, entirely in his handwriting on October 26, 2015:
Karen Grenrood is my executor, administrator, [and] has all legal rights to my estate in the case of my untimely or timely death.
Very truly yours,
Jerry VanDaveer [witness]
Karen Grenrood [witness]”
The contestants of the handwritten instrument filed a motion for summary judgment on the grounds that the instrument did not convey property but merely appointed Grenrood as executor. Therefore, it lacked testamentary intent and should not be admitted as a will to probate.
The court held that fact issues existed as to whether this was in fact a valid will disposing of the Decedent’s property after death. On one hand, a reasonable interpretation of the handwritten instrument is that it merely appointed Grenrood to be the executor of Silverman’s estate but did not make any disposition of Silverman’s property after death. On the other hand, by stating that Greenrood has all “legal rights” to my estate, a reasonable interpretation is that Silverman intended to give all of his property to Greenrood. This ambiguity creates an issue of fact for the court or jury to decide.
(Note: the court also indicated that even if the instrument did not make a disposition of property, it still would be improper for the court to deny admitting it to probate. Since it appoints an executor, then it should be admitted for the purpose of appointing this executor to administer the estate.)
The Court reversed the trial court’s summary judgment because the contestants failed to show as a matter of law that the handwritten instrument was not a valid will entitled to admission to probate. If this case doesn’t settle, it looks like one for the jury to decide.