When somebody dies, his bills must be paid and his property gathered before assets are distributed to the beneficiaries named in his will. This court-supervised process is termed probate. Before a formal probate case is opened, the court hears evidence showing that the will is authentic and probate is appropriate. Only then is the case opened and the will said to be accepted into probate.
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A will is not admitted to formal probate until preliminary facts are established. It must be shown that the testator is dead and that he resided in the county where the probate court is located. Evidence must also establish that the testator made the will, he was competent when he signed it and it was properly executed according to the laws of the jurisdiction.
To be valid, a printed or typed will must be signed by witnesses, two in some states, three in others. These witnesses can appear and testify before the probate court about the circumstances of the will signing in order to make the requisite showing.
Some states simplify the proof required by permitting self-proving wills. These are wills signed by the appropriate number of attesting witnesses who also sign an affidavit swearing that the testator was competent at the time he made and signed the will.