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Holographic (Handwritten) Will

Attorney Georgina K. Hughes June 17, 2022

On June 8, 1948, Canadian farmer Cecil George Harris became trapped under his tractor.  Fearing he would die, he used his pocketknife to carve into the fender of the tractor, “In case I die in this mess I leave all to my wife. Cecil Geo Harris”. 

Harris was rescued after being trapped for 10 hours, but died the next day without telling anyone about the Will.  It was found the next day by his neighbors. The fender was removed and presented to the court where it was determined to be a  valid holographic or handwritten will.   The fender was held by the court as evidence until 1996.  It was then turned over to the University of Saskatchewan College of Law where in remains today.  (Source: Brown, Jessica. “Dying Saskatchewan farmer’s will goes down in history”. Global News, posted 25, October 2013.  Web June 16, 2022. )


In Tennessee, for a holographic or handwritten Will to be valid, the signature and all its material provisions must be in the handwriting of the testator.  In addition, two (2) witnesses must come to court and testify that the Will and signature is in testator’s handwriting.  The witnesses must have personal knowledge of the testator’s handwriting or be handwriting experts. 

Based on these requirements, Cecil’s Will would probably not be valid in Tennessee because it would unlikely to find two (2) witnesses that could identify a pocketknife carving as Cecil’s handwriting. 


In a emergency situation such as Cecil’s, a holographic Will may be your only option.  However, this should be the only time you consider a holographic.  The only way to make sure your wishes are carried out after your death is to meet with an experienced Estate Planning Attorney so that you Will is property drafted and executed.   

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Attorney Georgina K. Hughes