You may already know that a will is a document used to protect your family or loved ones after you’ve passed on. Does a will need to be notarized? It can help make it legally binding, preventing lengthy probate and courtroom proceedings over who is entitled to your possessions. Here’s what you need to know.
What Is a Will?
A will is a legal document stating your final wishes, often including the distribution of property, dissolution of the estate, care of left-behind dependents, and other instructions like burial. After your passing, the court will read the will and ensure its execution according to your wishes.
Numerous issues are likely to crop up without a will following your death. Furthermore, some of your final wishes may not be carried out as you wanted. Having a will ensures your affairs are somewhat settled once you’re gone.
Uses of a Will
Besides indicating which of your assets goes to whom and when a will is useful for the following:
- Identifies a trusted executor of your estate
- Appoints guardians for your dependents or minor children, including for their inherited properties; otherwise, a court-appointed caretaker—perhaps, someone you dislike—will raise them
- Reduces estate taxes as gifts and charitable donations to avoid having taxes reduce your estate’s value
- Determines the repayment of existing debts, cancelation of credit cards, and notification of banks or business establishments
- Disinherits family members or relatives who may otherwise stand to inherit your estate
There are many reasons to have a will; however, it is not the only document that can resolve every issue after you pass away.
Does a Will Have to be Notarized?
Notarizing a will is not necessary for it to be valid as long as it is well-written, signed, and adequately witnessed according to your state’s laws. But if you want to ease the probate process for your inheritors, notarization of a will is a wise option.
So what does it mean to notarize a will? It involves adding a self-proving affidavit, which requires notarization, to the last page of the will. Then, two witnesses sign the said short document before a notary public, who will attest to their signatures’ veracity and signatories’ sound minds.
A self-proving affidavit bolsters the will’s validity during the signing, making it more difficult for others to contest the will. As a result, it prevents a costly, drawn-out probate process since the will is considered authentic and no longer needs to be proven in court. Furthermore, it lessens complications when witnesses are unavailable to validate your will.
However, self-proving wills are not ironclad in every state. For example, Ohio and the District of Columbia require witnesses to appear in court during probate, even if the will includes a notarized self-proving affidavit. In Maryland and California, witnesses don’t have to appear in court unless the self-proving will is contested.
Vermont considers a will self-proving without the attachment if you sign your will before a notary public. Meanwhile, Illinois, Indiana, and Texas allow a properly worded legal clause in the will in place of an additional document to make it self-proving.
To answer the question, “Does a will have to be notarized?” it depends on your state because of the differences in laws which may have specific requirements like those we mentioned above. Consult an attorney to better understand the laws where you live.
Who Can Notarize a Will?
Only a notary public can notarize a will as the state has authorized them to act as a disinterested witness in signing a legal document like a self-proving affidavit. However, if you’re a notary, bear in mind that you cannot notarize your own will. The same rule applies to your parents, spouse, and children.
If the last will names a notary as a beneficiary or heir, they are not allowed to notarize the legal document since they have a financial interest or are party to the transaction.
How Do You Notarize a Will?
Notaries must be careful when notarizing a will, as the slightest deviation from stringent statutory rules may void the document. Therefore, proofread the will for proper construction to ensure it cannot be challenged or declared null before notarization. Sometimes, it’s also best to have the notarization done during a signing ceremony to bind your will legally.
A will—whether prepared by an attorney or otherwise—may be notarized, given the following conditions:
- The signer should be present and competent to execute the document.
- The signer must be personally known to you or produce appropriate state-approved identification.
- The signer should fully understand what they are signing.
- The document must include a jurat.
Here’s how you can have your will notarized.
Find a Notary Public
If you’re signing the will in a law office, they will often provide it for your convenience. Find an available notary if you’re looking for banks, courthouses, real estate offices, public libraries, and town clerk’s offices. Consider mobile or remote notary services.
Arrange for Witnesses
At least two witnesses are needed to make a will valid. They should be at least 18 years old, know what they have signed, and not set to inherit anything under your will. Your notary cannot serve as a witness—they have to notarize the signatures on the self-proving affidavit, which becomes self-serving. Also, their spouse, parents, and children cannot act as witnesses.
You and your witnesses should have a form of identification and present this to the notary public. Acceptable are as follows:
- State-issued IDs
- Driver’s license
Some states accept expired identification cards and passports issued by foreign countries if the above are unavailable.
Sign the Document
The notary will confirm your identity, have you and your witnesses swear an oath, and watch each sign the self-proving affidavit. After, the notary affixes their signature and stamp or seal before recording the event in their book.
Can a Notary Decline Notarization?
Yes, they can. Even if the answer to “Does a will have to be notarized?” depends on your preference and state laws, bear in mind that a notary public also has an option to decline your request for notarization.
This happens when you seek legal advice from a notary or ask questions about the will to be notarized. If they are not an attorney, notaries cannot advise you regarding the legality of your document, as doing so may cause it to be invalidated despite being notarized. Furthermore, they may be held liable for offering the wrong counsel.
Contact Us Today
If you think notarizing wills is interesting and a potential career path, Florida Notary Association can help you become a notary. We offer an all-inclusive package—from education to commission—to simplify and speed up the process.
But if you’re already a notary public, quickly renew your credentials with us. Our comprehensive package meets state requirements so that you can receive your Notary Commission Certificate in no time.
Reach out today for more information.