An important part of any estate plan, a last will and testament contains instructions about who inherits your assets and estate. 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 for 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 valid document. But if you want to make the will self-proved, and alleviate the probate process for loved ones after you die, then notarizing the will is required. Notarizing your will is also inexpensive and typically costs less than $15.
Do you need to notarize your will?
Writing a will on your own and getting it notarized is only half the battle. Your will can still be considered a legally binding document if it hasn't been notarized, so long as it's made according to all the will requirements outlined in your state's law. Typically the will must be signed by the testator and two other people who don't stand to benefit called disinterested witnesses. (Handwritten and oral wills have different requirements.)
Once you pass away, the will needs to be verified, or proven and the witnesses to appear in probate court to verify their signatures and the testator's signature, 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. To alleviate this burden you can add a self-proving affidavit to your will, in which case your will must be notarized.
It is the notary’s responsibility to make sure that the signer knows what they have signed (this is called having testamentary capacity) and that they signed it voluntarily and not because of any undue influence. After the notary public has watched someone sign, they will stamp the document with an official seal.
Notarizing self-proved wills
The self-proving affidavit is a short statement that is included in or added to a will. It bolster the will's validity at time of signing, meaning the witness signatures don’t need to be proven by a judge in the future, which can be helpful since 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.
If you opt to include a self-proving affidavit, then your will requires notarization. You and your witnesses may all need to appear together before the notary. Some states may not allow self-proving affidavits or have additional requirements for them.
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, living wills, transfer-on-death 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 like a state-issued ID. Some states also allow expired IDs and passports issued by foreign countries.
Where to get your will notarized and how much it costs
The most common places to find a notary public are:
Town or county clerk’s office
Real estate offices
Photocopy shops or shipping stores
Notarizing a will or other document might be free, but can cost up about $15 depending on where you go.
You cannot notarize your own will 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 for remote or online notarization, or eNotarization, of a will where a certified notary performs the process remotely through video. The notarized document will receive an eNotary seal. If you have questions about notarizing your will in your state, you can talk with an estate planning attorney.