Do wills have to be notarized?

Do wills have to be notarized?
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Creating a last will and testament can provide reassurance that what you own will be passed on to those you love exactly as you want. However, once you’re gone, your will must be shown to be valid in probate court before your assets can be distributed. 

It’s therefore understandable that many people contemplating using an online will maker to create their own will at home usually have some important questions on their mind. Are wills created online legal is often one, and do wills have to be notarized is another. The answer to the first question is an emphatic yes, but perhaps confusingly, does a will need to be notarized is not always so clear cut. 

Does a will need to be notarized?

Importantly, if a will has been created properly and witnessed, it doesn’t need to be notarized to be judged valid in court. This means your will can be a legal document if it has simply been signed by the testator (the person who has made the will) and witnessed, usually by two other people. 

However, if you want to prevent delays around your assets being distributed, in most states it can make sense to include a self-proving affidavit to your will, which will also be signed by your witnesses and, importantly, must be notarized. If you have concerns around somebody potentially contesting your will, a notarized self-proving affidavit will also usually make it more difficult for them to succeed. 

Do wills have to be notarized?

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What is a self-proving affidavit?

It is during probate - which is the process where a will needs to be proven in court - that a self-proving affidavit can help smooth the legal path for those you have left behind. Proving a will involves demonstrating that the will document really is the will of the person it claims to be. 

This can be achieved in a number of ways, but in some instances, the witnesses to a will might be required to appear at court, either in person or by sworn statement. Of course, should a witness prove difficult to track down, or has died, the process of probate can be delayed. However, by attaching a self-proving affidavit to a will, this short note is taken as immediate proof of the will, without the need for any extra input from witnesses. 

Which states accept self-proving affidavits?

While most states will accept the use of self-proving affidavits to hasten the probate process, the District of Columbia and Ohio do not, and always require that a will be proven to the court.

Yet there are also states that allow a will to be self-proved without the need for a self-proving affidavit, as long as the will has been signed and witnessed correctly:

  • California
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Maryland
  • Nevada

In all other states, however, there is definite benefit to including a notarized self-proving affidavit if you want to ensure probate can proceed quickly. 

How to get a will notarized

In order to get a will notarized, you will need to use a notary public, who has been authorized by the state to act as an impartial witness during the signing of legal documents. 

While different states might have different requirements, most notaries will need to see confirmation of your identity before they physically watch you add your signature to the will. Current state-issued ID is normally acceptable for proof of identity. To confirm a document has been signed in their presence, a notary will stamp it with an official seal. 

Where to get a will notarized

If you need to find a notary public to notarize your will, you can search online to find someone in your local area, or could ask at a bank, real estate office, law firm, town or county clerk’s office, or package-mailing service. Online notarization is also accepted in some states, whereby the notarization of a will can be completed remotely. 

While some notary publics will offer their services for free, others might charge up to $15 for a notarization. Whatever the fee, it is usually a small price to pay for knowing that those you leave behind should have few concerns in relation to probate once you’re gone, in a similar way that final expense insurance can help reassure that your loved ones won’t have to find the money to pay for your funeral. 

Tim Leonard

With over 20 years’ experience in the financial services industry, Tim has spent most of his career working for a financial data firm, where he was Online Editor of the consumer-facing Moneyfacts site, and regularly penned articles for the financial advice publication Investment Life and Pensions Moneyfacts. As a result, he has an excellent knowledge of almost areas of personal finance and, in particular, the retirement, investment, protection, mortgage and savings sectors.