I don't know about you, but I'm a huge "Downton Abbey fan."
For those of you not familiar with the show, it's about a British manor in the period of time following World War I, which follows the lives of the lords and ladies and the staff that serve them.
Sometimes it gets a bit "soap-opera like," but they have British accents and let's face it, British accents are pretty cool. Anyway, if you follow the show, you know last season ended with the unexpected death of one of the leading characters. This season picked up six months following his death. If you haven't seen the first episode, stop reading here because I'm about to give away in important detail.
The episode catches you up with the changes that have followed Matthew's death, and how it affects the family. The wife is suffering and her father is trying to take charge of the entire estate since Matthew's primary heir is his newborn son.
It seems that Matthew failed to leave a will, and under the law at the time the wife had few inheritance rights. Here's the spoiler, so stop reading if you haven't seen the episode. The family discovers a letter Matthew left indicating his intent to leave everything to his wife. He didn't leave a will, but a signed and witnessed letter. If the letter is valid, the widow gets everything and if it isn't, the child gets it. High drama in jolly old England.
If I can sum up this plot point, it's simply "what constitutes a will?" Is it a long document written on good paper that uses words such as "executor" and "executrix," or is it something else?
I can't tell you what constitutes a will in early 20th century England, but I can tell you what it is in Indiana today. Essentially, in Indiana, a valid will must be in writing, demonstrate testamentary intent and be signed by a competent adult and witnessed by two disinterested witnesses. If you have those factors, you likely have a valid will. If you are missing any of one those items, the wills validity is questionable.
Now some of you have likely heard if you leave a document in your own handwriting, it's a valid will even if it hasn't been witnessed. A hand-written will is known as a holographic will, and you are right, some states recognize them. However, Indiana isn't one of them – unless of course it has been witnessed properly.
Also, there something known as a nuncupative will, which is essentially a verbal will. Believe it or not, Indiana recognizes nuncupative wills under extremely limited circumstances. However, unless you are pinned under a train, get it in writing.
The moral of the story is a will hidden in a book makes for great drama in English soap operas. However, from a real world perspective, it almost never happens. If you want a will, and I hope you do, see an attorney and get it done right. Don't believe everything you see on TV.