How to Witness a Last Will & Testament

By Jennifer Kiesewetter, J.D.

How to Witness a Last Will & Testament

By Jennifer Kiesewetter, J.D.

Once you have created your last will and testament, you need to have it signed and witnessed. These last steps create a valid legal document. At the signing, the rules for witnesses are clear-cut and straightforward. However, you want to make sure you understand your state laws. The rules vary from state to state. Make sure you follow your state rules so that your will is valid.

Two people signing documents on opposite ends of a desk

Here's what you need to know about how to witness a last will and testament.

1. Determine witness eligibility.

To be eligible to witness a will, you must meet some basic eligibility requirements. For example, you must be over 18 years of age. Additionally, most states require two witnesses to sign a will. In Vermont, three witnesses must sign a will.

Most states require that the witnesses must first watch the testator—the person who made the will—sign it before they sign the document. Some states permit witnesses to sign at a later time as long as the will is valid. However, as a best practice to avoid any challenges in probate court, you should have the testator and the witnesses sign at the same time.

2. See if any witnesses are interested witnesses.

Make sure that witnesses are “disinterested," meaning that they aren't eligible to inherit property under the will. Depending upon an individual state's law, if a disinterested witness signs a will, it could void the entire document.

Some states do allow interested witnesses to sign a will. However, typically an additional disinterested witness must sign as well, bringing the witness total to three. Check your state law to determine when and how interested witnesses may sign a will.

3. Check for a self-proving affidavit requirement.

Witness signatures don't typically have to be notarized. However, the will may contain a self-proving affidavit requirement. A self-proving affidavit is a legal document that accompanies a will, serving as a sworn statement authenticating the will. Both (or all three) witnesses sign the affidavit under a penalty of perjury certifying that they witnessed the testator sign the will. This affidavit is notarized.

A self-proving affidavit provides an additional layer of security in case a family member questions the will after the testator's death. By having this affidavit, your witnesses won't have to appear in probate court to confirm the validity of the will.

You shouldn't leave the drafting of your will undone. Wills are essential documents and confirming their validity is critical to ensuring a smooth transition upon the testator's death. Additionally, creating a valid will is vital to ensuring that your wishes are carried out upon your death. You may have questions about drafting a will or establishing an estate plan. If you do, you should consult with an attorney or use an online service provider for assistance or guidance. By seeking legal advice, you can assure yourself that you've provided for your family in the event of your death.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.