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Is Handwritten Instruction in Bible Valid to Update a Will?

February 2, 2023
Andrew Sigerson
A state appeals court has ruled that a handwritten instruction in a Bible that included only the first name of the writer was a valid codicil that changed a will.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals held that a handwritten instruction in a Bible that included only the first name of the writer was a valid codicil that changed a will

The ABA Journal’s recent article entitled “Bible note changed writer's will, Tennessee appeals court rules” reports that the case concerned the will of Micki D. Thompson and her instruction regarding a gift to Albert Read Lewin.

In a Bible owned by her executor, a close friend, she’d written below the date: “Albert Read Lewin—shall receive $3,000 per month for life—This is appreciation for his care and complete dedication to Micki and her welfare. He gave All in making her life.”

There wasn’t a separate signature beneath the instruction. The Bible was found with Thompson’s personal property.

The parties agreed that the handwriting was Thompson’s, and that she was of sound mind when she wrote the statement that referred to herself in the third person.

However, a trial judge ruled that the writing didn’t meet the Tennessee law’s requirement for a signature for holographic wills.

The law states: “No witness to a holographic will is necessary, but the signature and all its material provisions must be in the handwriting of the testator, and the testator’s handwriting must be proved by two (2) witnesses.”

However, the Tennessee Court of Appeals reversed and found that Thompson’s insertion of her first name within the body of the handwriting satisfies the signature requirement.

When a name is inserted at some point in a holographic will that is not signed by the testator, the presumption is that the writer didn’t intend the writing to be a will.  However,the presumption may be rebutted, the appeals court said.

A holographic will is a handwritten and testator-signed document.

In this case, the trial court had found that the inscription demonstrated Thompson’s intent. The facts overcame the rebuttable presumption, the Court of Appeals concluded.

Reference: ABA Journal (Oct. 28, 2021) “Bible note changed writer's will, Tennessee appeals court rules”

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