What Is the Act or Process of Proving the Validity of a Will?

By Abby Lane

Before a court can probate a will, it must determine that the will is valid and authentic. Although laws vary from state to state, proving the validity of a will generally entails ensuring that it was created and signed by the person executing the will, called the "testator," and that it complies with state law. In most states, a will can be prepared in a way that eliminates any additional action on the part of the executor during the probate process.

Self-proving Wills

In many states, wills are automatically considered valid if they are self-proving. To create a self-proving will, the witnesses and the testator sign twice. First, the testator signs the will in front of two witnesses and the witnesses then sign the document, too. Next, the testator and the witnesses swear, before a notary, that the will was signed in each other’s presence. The notary then affixes her notary seal to the document.

Witness Verification

When a will is not self-proving, most states require that the witnesses affirm to the court that the testator actually signed the will. Usually the witnesses affirm that they saw the testator sign the document. In some instances, the witnesses affirm that the testator confirmed that his or her signature appeared on the will. Generally, the witnesses provide this information to the court through sworn oral testimony. However, some states allow the witnesses to provide the information through sworn written testimony called an "affidavit." State law may only require the testimony of one witness.

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Lost, Unidentifiable or Deceased Witness

Problems arise when one or both witnesses cannot be located, cannot be identified or have died. State laws dictate how the executor should address this situation. In most states, the executor will have to perform a diligent search for the witnesses. If the witnesses still cannot be located, some states allow the executor to validate the will by providing sworn testimony that he or she believes the will is valid and authentic.

Holographic Wills

State laws on holographic wills vary dramatically. Generally, a holographic will is one written by the testator and not witnessed. Some states require that the entire holographic will be written in the testator’s handwriting. Proving a holographic will is much more difficult for the executor because evidence must be provided to the court proving that the will was actually executed by the testator. Commonly, known handwriting samples from the testator are submitted to the court for comparison with the will.

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Is There a Statute to Probate a Will in Louisiana?


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Rules for Witnessing a Will

A last will and testament is a powerful legal document that instructs the executor of an estate how to distribute the property of the writer of the will, known as the testator, after he dies. Because of the potential and motivation for fraud, state governments have passed laws imposing strict restrictions on the format of a will. All states require that the testator's signature be witnessed.

Is a Hand-Written Notarized Will Legal?

Your will can direct the distribution of your property after your death, name someone you trust to manage your estate and even nominate a guardian for your minor children. But your will can't do any of that if it isn't valid in your state. Generally, a handwritten will is just as legally valid as a typed or printed will as long as it meets your state's standards.

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A will is a testator's final directive about her property. A valid will effectively disposes of all of the testator's assets after her death according to her own choices. In order for a will to be valid, the testator must be competent, must intend to make a will and must execute the document according to state law. Absent a valid will, property passes to blood relatives under state intestate distribution laws.


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