The final step in drafting your will is signing it in front of witnesses. Too many people who take their estate planning into their own hands or use one of those online will templates neglect to do this – or at least to do it correctly.
That essentially makes the will invalid and all the time and effort spent on it pointless, when this step can and should be simple. Here’s what you need to know about having your will signing witnessed.
Each state has its own requirements. Here in Alabama, a will must be signed by the testator (the person whose will it is) in the presence of two “competent” witnesses who must add their signatures as witnesses. It doesn’t specify that they must be at least 18 years old, but that’s certainly best so there’s less room to question whether they knew what they were signing and did so willingly.
The law also doesn’t specifically state that the witnesses cannot be beneficiaries of the will. Again, however, it’s typically best that they aren’t. This can help prevent accusations of “undue influence” by others who may have been left out of the will or think they should have inherited more.
Those who sign a will as witnesses are not attesting that they have read the document, that they approve of what’s in it or even that it’s legal and valid. All they’re doing is saying that they know what the document is and that they saw the testator sign it voluntarily and knowing what they were doing. That means you can’t bring your signed will to a friend or co-worker and ask them to sign as a witness. Further, both witnesses need to sign it at the same time.
Of course, you can easily avoid any problem with witnesses if you have experienced estate legal guidance. When estate planning professionals prepare a will and other documents, they ensure that they’re signed as necessary in front of appropriate witnesses. That gives you one less thing to worry about or for people to potentially contest after you’re gone.