Handwritten, unwitnessed wills — also called holographic wills — are valid in the Yukon as well as some of the provinces. One of the more famous examples of a holographic will comes from Saskatchewan, where in 1948 , Cecil George Harris became trapped under his tractor and, near death, carved the following words into its bumper:

“ In case I die in this mess, I leave all to the wife. Cecil Geo Harris . ”

The bumper was removed, brought to court and determined to be a valid holographic will.

However, not all Canadian jurisdictions recognize such wills. In about half our provinces, including British Columbia, holographic wills are not valid.

Beyond jurisdictional issues, other problems commonly arise with holographic wills.

For one, if questions arise as to whether the maker was mentally competent or under undue influence from self-serving family members when he or she wrote the will, there are no witnesses to provide evidence to the court. The point of witnesses, after all, is that if there’s any question about the will’s validity, they can come to court and testify.

Handwritten wills also tend to be ambiguous.

The intended meaning may have been clear to the writer, but less so to the readers. For instance, one man left everything to “Mother,” without identifying the person by name. The man’s mother survived him. So did his wife, whom he had affectionately called “Mother” ever since their child was born. Which of these women was intended to receive his estate?

Finally, handwritten wills often don’t cover all possible contingencies — they simply provide that all of one’s property is to pass to their spouse. But what if the couple dies together in a car crash? What is the contingency plan?

A holographic will might sound like a simple solution, but it’s always preferable to make a formal will that covers all contingencies, is valid across Canada , and is witnessed.

Unless, of course, you’re trapped under a tractor.