How to write your own will?

You can draw up your will yourself, without going through a civil law notary (notaire). This is known as a holograph will, as opposed to an authentic will drawn up by a notary. 
However, for the will to be valid, certain rules must be respected. 

Written in the testator's own handwritting 

To be legally valid, a holograph will must be written entirely in the testator's handwriting. It must also be dated (day, month, year) and signed. Failure to comply with any of these three conditions will mean the will is not valid. 

It is best to be concise, but if there are several sheets, each must be numbered, indicating the total (1/3; 2/3 and 3/3, for example), dated, signed or initialled. The wording must be clear and unambiguous. It is advisable to begin with the standard formula "This is my will...", and to use a direct style: "I bequeath my house to X", rather than "I would like to give my house to X". 

If any clauses are ambiguous, contradictory or unlawful, they will be annulled. The same applies if you do not respect the inheritance reserve from which the children benefit, by granting a third party more than the available portion. If the deceased leaves several wills, it is the date that will determine which is the last and therefore the one to be taken into account. It should also be noted that recording last wishes on an electronic medium such as a CD or DVD has no legal value.

Holograph wills can be completely secret, as they do not have to be witnessed. A notary is not required and the document can be changed at any time. This does not mean, however, that you should not seek the advice of a lawyer before drawing up the document, to ensure that you use the right terms and are properly understood. 
This is the simplest and most economical way of stating your last wishes. 

However, to avoid the risk of your will being lost or destroyed, or of your heirs not finding it when they need it, it is advisable to leave it with a notary, who will keep it in his safe, and ask him to register it with the “”Fichier central des dispositions de dernières volontés" (FCDDV). The cost of this procedure is modest, but the notary may charge a fee for help in drawing up the will or for advice. Don't hesitate to ask for a quote before making a commitment.

…And in a language he understands

Last June, the Cour de Cassation recalled that a will drawn up in a language that the testator does not understand cannot be considered as expressing his wishes. 

In this case, a divorced German man, who died in France in 2003 where he had lived since 1999, left his three children and his sister as his successors. He had drawn up a holographic will in French, a language he did not speak, in which he made his sister his universal legatee and allocated the available portion to her. Wanting to receive her share, his sister took the children to court to have the bequest delivered. 

The Chambéry Court of Appeal recognised the validity of the will. The Court of Cassation overturned this decision, ruling that the will could not be a faithful expression of the testator's wishes because it had been written in a language that the testator did not understand, and that it was in fact an imperfect translation of a previous document which, although written in the testator's mother tongue, was not in his own handwriting.

Useful information

65€. This is the cost (inclusive of tax) of filing and safekeeping a holograph will with a civil law notary. The notary may also charge advisory fees and a fee (around ten euros more) for registering the will in the "Fichier central des dispositions de dernières volontés" (FCDDV).


Copyright Uni-médias -Last updated March 2022.
Article for information and advertising purposes. The information in this article is provided for information purposes only and Crédit Agricole declines all liability in connection therewith. It is in no way intended to replace the reader’s own knowledge and expertise. You are strongly recommended to seek professional advice.

First published: 22nd November 2023