Does a will have to be notarized?

You don’t have to notarize your will, but you might want to.

Elissa

Elissa Suh

Published December 17, 2019

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KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Notarizing a will prevents fraud by proving its authenticity

  • A will does not need to be notarized in order to be valid

  • Choosing to include a self-proving affidavit and notarizing the will can speed along the probate process after you pass away

An important part of any estate plan, a last will and testament contains instructions about who inherits your assets and valuables. Once you pass away, the will must be proven in probate court before a judge, so the last thing you want is for them to find the will invalid and your planning to go to waste.

Notarizing a will is not necessary as long as your will has been properly constructed and witnessed; the court will view it as a legally binding document. However, you may still want to get your will notarized and include a self-proving affidavit, since it can help the probate process move faster. Notarizing your will is also inexpensive and typically costs $15 or less.

In this article:

Do you need to notarize your will?

In order for a will to be valid, certain steps need to be taken after writing it. It must be signed by the testator and witnessed — typically by two other people who also provide their signatures. As long as you follow the witnessing requirements set by your state, the will is considered a valid legal document.

Once you pass away, the will needs to be verified, or proven, in court in a process known as probate. The judge can call upon the witnesses to verify their signatures, which might be difficult if the witnesses have moved away or died. This ultimately delays the time it takes for any beneficiaries to receive assets given to them in the will. Notarizing your will, however, can help avoid this potential obstacle as probate becomes costly when it’s dragged out and you have to pay for legal fees. Notarizing a will might also make it harder for someone to contest it.

Read our estate planning guide for more on the best ways to plan for the future and pass on your assets.

Self-proving affidavit

The self-proving affidavit is a short statement that is included in or added to a will. It essentially makes the will probatable at time of signing, meaning the witness signatures don’t need to be proven by a judge in the future. If you opt for a self-proving affidavit, then your will requires notarization. (You and your witnesses may all need to appear together before the notary.)

After you pass away, the will is automatically proven, so your beneficiaries won’t have to wait as long for probate to finish and for the assets to be distributed. Some states may not allow self-proving affidavits or have additional requirements for them. If you have any questions about notarizing your will, you can talk with an estate planning attorney.

What is notarization?

Documents are notarized to prevent fraud. Notarization gives an added level of protection and proof of authenticity, so that someone can’t just write up a contract and forge your signature and try to enforce it.

To get a document notarized, you will need to find a notary public, who has been authorized by the state to perform certain functions of law, like acting as an impartial witness to the signing of legal documents. Common documents that are notarized include certified copies, property deeds, and a durable power of attorney.

Typically when you meet the notary, they will confirm your identity and physically watch you sign the document. That means you need to bring some form of identification. Every state has different requirements, but virtually any current state-issued ID is accepted. Some states also allow expired IDs and passports issued by foreign countries.

It is the notary’s responsibility to make sure that the signer knows what they have signed and that they signed it voluntarily and not because of any undue influence. After the notary has watched someone sign, they will stamp the document with an official seal. A document that is notarized in one state is typically valid in another.

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Where to get a document notarized

Notarization might be free, but can cost up about $15 depending on where you go.

The most common places to find a notary public are:

  • Banks
  • Courthouses
  • Town or county clerk’s office
  • Libraries
  • Law firms
  • Real estate offices
  • Photocopy shops or shipping stores

You cannot notarize your own document if you are a notary. But you can ask if anyone you know or work with is, since it’s a service that normal people can perform after they get a certification. Some places might also perform notarizations as a side business.

Additionally, some states allow online notarization, or eNotarization, where a certified notary performs the process remotely through video. The notarized document will receive an eNotary seal.

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