How to Get Handwritten Documents Accepted in Court

There are times, particularly when dealing with family situations, where it might be necessary to try to get a handwritten document admitted as evidence in court. For example, a handwritten codicil on a will could have a significant impact on who inherits what from an estate -- but only if the court accepts it as evidence. To do that, you'll have to authenticate the handwriting and prove that it was written by the person you say it was. How can you do that?

1. Collect as many valid exemplars as possible.

An exemplar, or "standard" sample, is a sample of somebody's handwriting that is legally admissible in court. They're used as comparisons to the handwriting on the questioned document. An investigator usually tries to track down as many documents as he or she can that are acknowledged to have been written by the same person who supposedly wrote the questioned document.

Things like business letters, cancelled checks, and applications for credit all make excellent exemplars because there is usually no dispute over who wrote them. Look for items that were written the same way -- if the document in question was written in cursive, find exemplars in cursive as well. If the person used print instead of cursive on the document in question, look for printed exemplars. If there are enough exemplars and the handwriting is distinctive, the judge may be willing to make the decision to authenticate the document in question without further inquiry.

2. Elicit the testimony of someone who can identify the document as genuine.

For example, maybe the sister of the writer was present when the document was written and can testify to that fact. Or, perhaps the writer took the handwritten document to the local bank and asked someone there to notarize it for him or her. The notary would be able to authenticate the document by testifying that the alleged writer is the person who brought the document to the bank, handed it over to be notarized, and took it back. He or she would also be able to testify that it was his or her seal and signature as a notary on the document.

3. See if the court will accept the testimony of non-experts who are familiar with the handwriting.

The judge in the case may be willing to accept the opinion of someone (or several someones) who believe that the handwriting is genuine. This would have to come from someone who knew the author well and has extensive familiarity with that person's handwriting. The judge is unlikely to allow testimony from someone who has an invested interest in whether or not the document is accepted as valid to testify, so the ideal person is a neutral third party who doesn't stand to gain or lose anything by the outcome of the case.

4. Use a handwriting expert to authenticate the document.

If the exemplars don't make it clear to the judge that the document in question was, in fact, written by the person alleged, then it might be time to call in a handwriting expert. The expert may be able to use the exemplars to make tiny comparisons between the exemplars and the questioned document that aren't immediately visible to a layperson. The use of handwriting experts to authenticate documents in court has a lot of precedence behind it and is considered a reliable, objective method of determination.

Getting handwritten documents admitted into court can be a challenge, but it isn't impossible. If you need to discuss how to use a handwritten document in your case, talk to an attorney that specializes in the applicable area of law. For instance, if you're going through a divorce, consult a family law attorney, such as Law Offices of Lynda Latta, LLC, to examine your case and if you can use a document handwritten by your future ex-spouse.