Is a Self-Made Will Legal If Notarized?

By Jeffry Olson, J.D.

Is a Self-Made Will Legal If Notarized?

By Jeffry Olson, J.D.

Self-made wills are valid only if they meet the requirements of the state. Unfortunately, whether a self-made will is notarized is not always the sole determiner of its legality.

Man stamping document

 

Although the specific requirements for a will vary by state, many states do have similar general requirements. With some exceptions such as marital status, the subject of the will, called the testator, must be at least 18 years of age. The testator must know the property he or she possesses, the people who would normally be beneficiaries, how he or she is distributing the property, and that the will is a distribution of his or her property upon his or her death.

States allow for a variety of self-made wills, including handwritten wills, preprinted forms, and computerized forms. Requirements beyond that often differ in each state. Always check a state's specific statutes.

Notarization and Witness Requirements

While documents are said to be "notarized," what that really means is that the appropriate signature or signatures on the document have been notarized. For a document to be notarized, it must be signed in the presence and full view of a notary public. The notary public then signs the document and affixes a stamp or seal.

Be aware, a notary public is not allowed to notarize a document if it is not signed in his or her presence and full view. This is true even if the signer provides identification and swears the signature is his or hers. Always bring the unsigned documents to the notary public, tell them you need your signature notarized, and find out what the requirements are before signing the document or documents in front of the notary. Failure to follow appropriate rules for your jurisdiction may result in having to obtain new documents and begin the process again.

A majority of states require two witnesses to the execution of a will by the testator. The witnesses sign the will after the testator, saying they witnessed the execution. Some states require notarization of the witnesses' signatures as well.

Holographic Wills

One type of self-made will allowed in many states is a holographic will. A holographic will is handwritten by the testator. The testator's name, the date, the distribution of assets, and the testator's signature must be handwritten for the will to be valid. Holographic wills usually do not need to be witnessed or notarized to be legal.

Wills and Probate

It is not enough to simply ask if a self-made will is legal if notarized—there is more to it than that. And because each state has its own requirements, what is specifically required can vary.

Wills are extremely important, allowing you to determine who inherits your assets. When drafting a will, consider not just the minimum requirements. For example, if your state does not require notarization or witnesses for your self-made will, such as is typically the case with a holographic will, it never hurts to provide witnesses or a notarized signature. Wills go through the probate court, so any additional evidence of authenticity and validity makes the court process go more smoothly for your heirs.

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.