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Estate Planning | Probate

Witness Requirements for a Will: How Many You Need and Where to Find Them

4 min read
Philip Ahn, Attorney

by Philip Ahn, Attorney

Witnesses play a crucial role in validating most types of wills. Their primary responsibility is to confirm an authentic signature from the subject of the will, who is known as a testator. In doing so, the witnesses must also ensure the document reflects the testator’s true intentions.

Without credible witnesses, the court may question a will’s validity. Choosing witnesses who are of legal age, mentally competent, and not beneficiaries of the will should make it more defensible during the probate process.

How Many Witnesses Are Needed for a Will?

State laws typically mandate that at least two disinterested witnesses – that is, persons with no stake in the outcome – be present when the testator signs the will to ensure the will’s validity.

The presence of multiple witnesses safeguards against:

  • Undue influence
  • Coercion
  • Duress

Witnesses are generally expected to:

  • Sign an attestation clause, which affirms the presence of each witness
  • Assert that the testator entered into the will with sound mind and reasonable mental capacity

Witnesses do not necessarily need to attend a will signing or hearing in person. Self-proving affidavits can typically be notarized at an attorney’s office. These streamline probate proceedings by eliminating the need for live testimony from witnesses, making the document legally binding and readily accepted in court.

Where Can You Find a Witness for a Will?

You may want to ask trusted friends to serve as witnesses for a will. Ideally they can support you and understand your decisions.

Neighbors are also good choices to witness a will, as they’re in your jurisdiction and typically have a natural but distanced relationship.

A coworker can be called on to serve as a witness. They’ll know your state of mind and provide a different perspective.

Whether or not you bring your own witnesses, your estate lawyer will likely be able to help. Instead of witnessing a will they’ve helped you draft, paralegals or others in a law office’s employ are good witness candidates. However, you may be charged for the privilege.

Can a Family Member Serve as a Witness to a Will?

In many cases, family members can indeed be witnesses to a will as long as they meet the legal requirements. Their signed statements can potentially provide valuable testimony in the event of disputes or challenges as evidence that the will was witnessed by individuals close to the testator. However, if they’re named in the will, then they won’t count as disinterested parties.

Notarized Signature Verification When Creating a Will

The testator and witnesses must sign legal documents in the presence of a notary public to ensure the authenticity of each signature. Notaries will record this information, proving that a document is not forged. When the testator dies, the notarial certificate and the witnesses’ signatures collectively serve as crucial pillars in upholding the integrity of the will. In most courts and jurisdictions, the presence of the testator and the proper signatures make the document valid and legally binding.

When Do Witnesses Need to Actively Testify?

Any will may be contested due to disputes over its legitimacy or the circumstances surrounding its creation. 

Even if witnesses signed the document, doubts can still emerge regarding the testator’s mental capacity, the authenticity of the document, or whether the testator was under undue influence. These contested wills can lead to legal battles, as courts must carefully weigh the evidence and witness testimony to determine the final disposition of the estate.

In such cases, a concerned witness may be asked to testify before a judge to further validate the document. Their involvement as witnesses can ultimately make the difference in confirming a will’s legality in probate court.

An Attorney’s Role in Defending a Will

Preserving the integrity of witnessed wills is a critical responsibility for estate and probate attorneys. These legal professionals will: 

  • Oversee the will’s signing, ensuring that the testator is present in a proper legal capacity
  • Ensure that the creation process and final product adheres to the requirements set forth by local courts
  • Help select appropriate witnesses who can attest to the will’s authenticity and the testator’s capacity without biases
  • Streamline the verification process, reducing the likelihood of disputes and expediting probate proceedings

In this way, probate attorneys serve as guardians of the testator’s final wishes.

Unbundled Legal Help works with a nationwide network of independent and pocket-friendly estate lawyers. The attorneys in our network specialize in unbundled legal services, offering rates as low as $500 to $1,500 for specific sensitive tasks instead of expensive full representation. They also provide realistic payment options for comprehensive services. No matter your situation, lawyers in our network can provide a free consultation if you’re thinking of hiring them for your estate or probate needs.

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