Your last will and testament is not official unless and until you complete a proper signing ceremony. Make sure that you follow these tips to maximize the benefits of your last will and testament and ensure that your wishes are followed to the fullest extent possible.
#1 Staple your last will and testament documents prior to execution
If you are executing your last will and testament in-person, staple your documents prior to execution and leave them in that form. In some states, a last will document that is unstapled, has had staples removed at some point, or has been re-stapled may require an affidavit from parties stating that they did not tamper with the document from the time of execution until submission to probate court.
#2 Pick qualified, disinterested witnesses
Our guide to picking good witnesses describes why it’s important to pick qualified, disinterested individuals to witness signatures to your last will and testament.
A disinterested witness is someone who does not have any family or strong personal connections to you, and who is not a beneficiary or fiduciary named in your will or other estate plan. Since disinterested witnesses do not reasonably stand to inherit anything from your estate, the court is more likely to accept their attestation that you met the requirements for proper execution of your last will and testament.
#3 Declare in plain English to your witnesses what you are signing as your voluntary act
Proper execution of your last will and testament requires that you create and sign the document willingly and are of “sound mind.” If you do not make your will self-proved, your witnesses may later be called to testify that you met these requirements and followed all other necessary procedures. Position you and your witnesses for success by verbally telling your witnesses that you are signing your last will and testament as your free and voluntary act.
In addition to verbalizing a basic statement regarding your intent to create your last will and testament and acknowledging that you do so freely, you might also consider providing your witnesses a very brief verbal overview of your family, the beneficiaries in your plan, and your assets. If you are disinheriting an individual or leaving unequal gifts to beneficiaries of the same class (i.e., children), providing a short 1-2 minute verbal overview can further demonstrate to your witnesses and/or the notary public that you are of sound mind and fully understand what you are doing by this document.
#4 Sign in the presence of your witnesses, and have them do the same
In the visual presence and hearing of your witnesses, sign your last will and testament and invite your witnesses to do the same. Don’t let anyone leave the room until all parties apply their signatures. It shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes.
Although in some states you can sign outside of your witnesses' presence if, when your witnesses sign, you acknowledge to them that the signature on the document is yours and repeat the same attestations, most estate planning attorneys encourage their clients to sign in the presence of their witnesses as a more robust policy.
#5 Ensure your witnesses print their names and addresses legibly
Instruct your witnesses to print their names and addresses legibly and carefully, or do it for them and have them just sign their name. If someone attempts to challenge the validity of your last will and testament and you have passed away or are otherwise unable to represent yourself, it may be necessary to contact the witnesses to secure their attestation and/or appearance in court. If your Executor can't read their name and address because your witnesses’ handwriting is poor, that's a problem!
#6 Make your last will self-proved
You can make your last will self-proved by executing a self-proving affidavit with the help of a notary public. The Court accepts the written statement and seal of the notary public as proof that he or she, acting as an agent of the state, validated that the last will’s execution met the state’s requirements. The last will can be admitted to the Court without any further testimony from the signing ceremony witnesses.
You can find a notary public at your local bank, which typically provides the notary service for free as long as you hold an account there.
Alternatively, if you work in a medium to large size office, chances are that an administrative assistant, HR representative, or someone else at your company is a notary public. This is a great way to nail your signing ceremony – you have a notary public and can typically find two co-workers who qualify as disinterested individuals. While you’re at it, you might even tell them how easy it was to create your last will and testament with Just In Case Estates 😉.
Want more help nailing the perfect last will and testament signing ceremony?
If you have any questions or would like additional help planning your last will and testament signing ceremony, reach out to our Just In Case Estates support team on live chat or at email@example.com. Even if you didn't create your last will with us, our team is standing by and happy to help.