2022 Colorado Code
Title 15 - Probate, Trusts, and Fiduciaries
Article 11 - Intestate Succession and Wills
Part 5 - Wills and Will Contracts and Custody and Deposit of Wills
§ 15-11-502. Execution - Witnessed or Notarized Wills - Holographic Wills

Universal Citation: CO Code § 15-11-502 (2022)
  1. Except as otherwise provided in subsection (2) of this section and in sections 15-11-503, 15-11-506, and 15-11-513, a will shall be:
    1. In writing;
    2. Signed by the testator, or in the testator's name by some other individual in the testator's conscious presence and by the testator's direction; and
    3. Either:
      1. Signed by at least two individuals, either prior to or after the testator's death, each of whom signed within a reasonable time after he or she witnessed either the testator's signing of the will as described in paragraph (b) of this subsection (1) or the testator's acknowledgment of that signature or acknowledgment of the will; or
      2. Acknowledged by the testator before a notary public or other individual authorized by law to take acknowledgments.
  2. A will that does not comply with subsection (1) of this section is valid as a holographic will, whether or not witnessed, if the signature and material portions of the document are in the testator's handwriting.
  3. Intent that the document constitute the testator's will can be established by extrinsic evidence, including, for holographic wills, portions of the document that are not in the testator's handwriting.
  4. For purposes of this section, "conscious presence" requires physical proximity to the testator but not necessarily within testator's line of sight.
  5. For purposes of this part 5, "will" does not include a designated beneficiary agreement that is executed pursuant to article 22 of this title.

Source: L. 94: Entire part R&RE, p. 997, § 3, effective July 1, 1995. L. 2001: (1)(c) amended, p. 886, § 1, effective June 1. L. 2009: (1) amended, (HB 09-1287), ch. 310, p. 1683, § 12, effective July 1, 2010. L. 2010: (5) added, (SB 10-199), ch. 374, p. 1750, § 9, effective July 1.

Editor's note: This section is similar to former §§ 15-11-502 and 15-11-503 as they existed prior to 1995.

Cross references: For provisions relating to the time of taking effect or the provisions for transition of this code, see § 15-17-101.


Subsection (a): Witnessed or Notarized Wills. Three formalities for execution of a witnessed or notarized will are imposed. Subsection (a)(1) requires the will to be in writing. Any reasonably permanent record is sufficient. See Restatement (Third) of Property: Wills and Other Donative Transfers § 3.1 cmt. i (1999).

Under subsection (a)(2), the testator must sign the will or some other individual must sign the testator's name in the testator's presence and by the testator's direction. If the latter procedure is followed, and someone else signs the testator's name, the so-called "conscious presence" test is codified, under which a signing is sufficient if it was done in the testator's conscious presence, i.e., within the range of the testator's senses such as hearing; the signing need not have occurred within the testator's line of sight. For application of the "conscious-presence" test, see Restatement (Third) of Property: Wills and Other Donative Transfers § 3.1 cmt. n (1999); Cunningham v. Cunningham, 83 N.W. 58 (Minn. 1900) (conscious-presence requirement held satisfied where "the signing was within the sound of the testator's voice; he knew what was being done ..."); Healy v. Bartless, 59 A. 617 (N.H. 1904) (individuals are in the decedent's conscious presence "whenever they are so near at hand that he is conscious of where they are and of what they are doing, through any of his senses, and where he can readily see them if he is so disposed."); Demaris' Estate, 110 P.2d 571 (Or. 1941) ("[W]e do not believe that sight is the only test of presence. We are convinced that any of the senses that a testator possesses, which enable him to know whether another is near at hand and what he is doing, may be employed by him in determining whether [an individual is] in his [conscious] presence ...").

Signing may be by mark, nickname, or initials, subject to the general rules relating to that which constitutes a "signature." See Restatement (Third) of Property: Wills and Other Donative Transfers § 3.1 cmt. j (1999). There is no requirement that the testator "publish" the document as his or her will, or that he or she request the witnesses to sign, or that the witnesses sign in the presence of the testator or of each other. The testator may sign the will outside the presence of the witnesses, if he or she later acknowledges to the witnesses that the signature is his or hers (or that his or her name was signed by another) or that the document is his or her will. An acknowledgment need not be expressly stated, but can be inferred from the testator's conduct. Norton v. Georgia Railroad Bank & Tr. Co., 285 S.E.2d 910 (Ga. 1982).

There is no requirement that the testator's signature be at the end of the will; thus, if the testator writes his or her name in the body of the will and intends it to be his or her signature, the statute is satisfied. See Restatement (Third) of Property: Wills and Other Donative Transfers § 3.1 cmts. j & k (1999).

Subsection (a)(3) requires that the will either be (A) signed by at least two individuals, each of whom witnessed at least one of the following: (i) the signing of the will; (ii) the testator's acknowledgment of the signature; or (iii) the testator's acknowledgment of the will; or (B) acknowledged by the testator before a notary public or other individual authorized by law to take acknowledgments. Subparagraph (B) was added in 2008 in order to recognize the validity of notarized wills.

Under subsection (a)(3)(A), the witnesses must sign as witnesses (see, e.g., Mossler v. Johnson, 565 S.W.2d 952 (Tex. Civ.App. 1978)), and must sign within a reasonable time after having witnessed the testator's act of signing or acknowledgment. There is, however, no requirement that the witnesses sign before the testator's death. In a particular case, the reasonable-time requirement could be satisfied even if the witnesses sign after the testator's death.

Under subsection (a)(3)(B), a will, whether or not it is properly witnessed under subsection (a)(3)(A), can be acknowledged by the testator before a notary public or other individual authorized by law to take acknowledgments. Note that a signature guarantee is not an acknowledgment before a notary public or other person authorized by law to take acknowledgments. The signature guarantee program, which is regulated by federal law, is designed to facilitate transactions relating to securities. See 17 C.F.R. § 240.17Ad-15.

Allowing notarized wills as an optional method of execution addresses cases that have begun to emerge in which the supervising attorney, with the client and all witnesses present, circulates one or more estate-planning documents for signature, and fails to notice that the client or one of the witnesses has unintentionally neglected to sign one of the documents. See, e.g., Dalk v. Allen, 774 So.2d 787 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2000); Sisson v. Park Street Baptist Church, 24 E.T.R.2d 18 (Ont. Gen. Div. 1998). This often, but not always, arises when the attorney prepares multiple estate-planning documents -- a will, a durable power of attorney, a health-care power of attorney, and perhaps a revocable trust. It is common practice, and sometimes required by state law, that the documents other than the will be notarized. It would reduce confusion and chance for error if all of these documents could be executed with the same formality.

In addition, lay people (and, sad to say, some lawyers) think that a will is valid if notarized, which is not true under non-UPC law. See, e.g., Estate of Saueressig, 136 P.3d 201 (Cal. 2006). In Estate of Hall, 51 P.3d 1134 (Mont. 2002), a notarized but otherwise unwitnessed will was upheld, but not under the pre-2008 version of Section 2-502, which did not authorize notarized wills. The will was upheld under the harmless-error rule of Section 2-503. There are also cases in which a testator went to his or her bank to get the will executed, and the bank's notary notarized the document, mistakenly thinking that notarization made the will valid. Cf., e.g., Orrell v. Cochran, 695 S.W.2d 552 (Tex. 1985). Under non-UPC law, the will is usually held invalid in such cases, despite the lack of evidence raising any doubt that the will truly represented the decedent's wishes.

Other uniform acts affecting property or person do not require either attesting witnesses or notarization. See, e.g., Uniform Trust Code § 402(a)(2); Power of Attorney Act § 105; Uniform Health-Care Decisions Act § 2(f).

A will that does not meet the requirements of subsection (a) may be valid under subsection (b) as a holograph or under the harmless-error rule of Section 2-503.

Subsection (b): Holographic Wills. This subsection authorizes holographic wills. On holographic wills, see Restatement (Third) of Property: Wills and Other Donative Transfers § 3.2 (1999). Subsection (b) enables a testator to write his or her own will in handwriting. There need be no witnesses. The only requirement is that the signature and the material portions of the document be in the testator's handwriting.

By requiring only the "material portions of the document" to be in the testator's handwriting (rather than requiring, as some existing statutes do, that the will be "entirely" in the decedent's handwriting), a holograph may be valid even though immaterial parts such as date or introductory wording are printed, typed, or stamped.

A valid holograph can also be executed on a printed will form if the material portions of the document are handwritten. The fact, for example, that the will form contains printed language such as "I give, devise, and bequeath to _______" does not disqualify the document as a holographic will, as long as the testator fills out the remaining portion of the dispositive provision in his or her own hand.

Subsection (c): Extrinsic Evidence. Under subsection (c), testamentary intent can be shown by extrinsic evidence, including for holographic wills the printed, typed, or stamped portions of the form or document. Handwritten alterations, if signed, of a validly executed nonhandwritten will can operate as a holographic codicil to the will. If necessary, the handwritten codicil can derive meaning, and hence validity as a holographic codicil, from nonhandwritten portions of the document. See Restatement (Third) of Property: Wills and Other Donative Transfers § 3.2 cmt. g (1999). This position intentionally contradicts Estate of Foxley, 575 N.W.2d 150 (Neb. 1998), a decision condemned in Reporter's Note No. 4 to the Restatement as a decision that "reached a manifestly unjust result".

2008 Revisions. In 2008, this section was amended by adding subsection (a)(3)(B). Subsection (a)(3)(B) and its rationale are discussed in Waggoner, The UPC Authorizes Notarized Wills, 34 ACTEC J. 58 (2008).

Historical Note. This Comment was revised in 2008.

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