One of the most important documents that a person signs during the course of a lifetime is his or her last will and testament. Of course, ensuring that a last will and testament is drafted properly is crucial. However, ensuring that a last will and testament is valid does not end when the instrument has been written. The manner in which the document is signed is vital to its ultimate validity.source
State Laws Govern Drafting and Signing a Last Will and Testament
Each individual state has its own laws as they pertain to the drafting and signing of a last will and testament. With that said, many states utilize a derivation of what is known as the Uniform Probate Code. In other words, although there are some minor differences from one state to another when it comes to a will, there is a great deal of commonality in the laws about wills across the United States.
In order to make certain that a last will and testament is appropriately drafted and properly executed, a person does need to check the specific laws of the state in which the will is signed. This is the only way in which compliance with the law can be confirmed.
The Role of a Notary Public at a Will Signing
A notary public plays a pivotal role in the execution or signing of a last will and testament. One of the power bestowed upon a notary public is the ability to administer oaths and confirm information in certain situations. For example, at the time of the signing of a last will and testament, a notary public is charged with confirming a number of factors before a person signs the instrument.
First, a notary public is required to confirm that the person about to sign his or her last will and testament understands what is contained in the instrument. A notary public doesn’t quiz the signer on the contents of the instrument. Rather, a notary public requires the signer to affirm that he or she has read the instrument and understands its contents.
Second, a notary public must concern that based on his or her reading of a last will and testament that the instrument does what the signer intends. In other words, the signer must affirm that the last will and testament deals with matters associated with his or her estate in the manner in which he or she intents and desires.
Third, a notary must ascertain that the signer of a last will and testament is of sound mind and body at the time of the execution of the instrument.
Finally, when the person signing a last will and testament executes the document, a notary public verifies the signature and affixes the seal of his or her office to the instrument.
Witnesses at a Will Signing
The laws of all states mandate that witnesses be present at the execution of a last will and testament. The laws do differ as to how many witnesses must be on hand at the signing of a last will and testament.
The witnesses are present to confirm that the person executing a last will and testament understands what he or she is doing, that he or she is signing the will as a free and voluntary act, and that the signer is of sound mind and body.
The witnesses can end up playing a pivotal role should the day ever come that a last will and testament is being challenged in some manner. For example, the witnesses might be called upon to testify in court if a challenge is made to the will after the signer of the instrument dies. The witnesses might be called upon to testify that the signer was of sound mind and body when the last will and testament was executed.
At the time of the execution of a last will and testament, a notary ensures that the witnesses understand their roles. The witnesses sign the instrument, after the signer of the will itself completes that task. A notary typically verifies the signatures of the witnesses to the last will and testament as well.
Generally speaking, a last will and testament usually is signed in the office of the attorney that drafted the instrument in the first instance. More often than not, the attorney will have a notary public available from his or her own staff. There are rare situations in which a notary public is called in from the outside to witness and notarize the signing of a last will and testament.