Laws About Last Wills & Testaments

by April Kohl
Wills should be signed before witnesses.

Wills should be signed before witnesses.

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Wills are a means of transferring a person's property to one or more beneficiaries upon death. Because the benefactor is no longer able to ensure that the process takes place according to her wishes, laws about last wills and testaments ensure that the process runs as smoothly as possible. Laws on las wills and testaments are set forth by each state, not the federal government.

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Although the exact terms of the law on wills and testaments differ from state to state, most states require the will maker -- also known as testator -- to be at least 18 years old and of sound mind, meaning the testator has not been declared incompetent by a court. Most states also require that the will be signed by the testator in the presence of at least two witnesses.


Minors are generally unable to act as witnesses in the United States. Similarly, anyone named in the will as a beneficiary is usually barred from acting as a witness, since then it is possible to challenge the will on the grounds that undue influence has occurred.

Holographic Wills

Wills are generally typed, but some states allow handwritten wills, also known as holographic wills. However, these wills should still be signed by testators.


Louisiana is the only state where a will must be notarized in order to be valid. Everywhere else, notarization is an optional extra step that makes a will “self-proving” -- this reduces the paperwork involved in submitting the will to the probate court. A self-proving will is taken to the court by the testator herself, along with affidavits from the witnesses asserting the will's genuineness.