How to Make a Will Legal

This is part of Cake's collection of estate planning articles. Create a Cake profile for free to discover, document, and share your end-of-life wishes.

Published on:

If you’ve drafted your will and thought everything through, great work! You’re way ahead of the game, but you’re not finished yet. To execute a will in any state in the United States, you must:

  1. Sign the document while you have the capacity to know what you're doing
  2. Have two people sign the will as witnesses

Executing a will is the term for signing it and making it legal

Surprisingly, you aren't required to have your will notarized, although there is an advantage to doing so in some states (more on that below). However, to make it legal, there are a few boxes you need to check.

Be of sound mind

Being of “sound mind” means you have legal "capacity" to be in control and responsible for your decisions—freely and voluntarily. More specifically, you understand what property you own, your family relationships, and what happens because of this document when you die. Sometimes, this is contested in court due to age or illness.

Gather witnesses

In every state, your will must be signed by 2 adult witnesses, meaning people over 18 years old. Also, the witnesses you select should not be beneficiaries, meaning they should not be named in your will to receive anything when you die. Also, witnesses are sometimes called to probate court to testify to the validity of the will in case there are complications or someone contests the will.

Sign the documents

Executing your will only takes about 10 minutes, but it also takes some time to arrange.

  1. First, draft your will with an attorney or create one online. Before you sign it, read it very carefully to make sure that you understand every word and that it accurately states your wishes.
  2. Gather your witnesses. You must sign the will together, at the same time.
  3. Sign and date it. After the last clause of the document, sign and print your name and write the date. Then ask your witnesses to sign.

Congratulations, your will is now legal!

Self-proving affidavits and notaries

Most states allow you to attach a "self-proving affidavit" to your will. The self-proving affidavit itself is a document with a brief statement that says that the will was properly executed. It is signed by you and the witnesses then notarized by a notary public.

If you decide to use a self-proving affidavit, you and your witnesses must go to the notary public together. There are also mobile notaries who will come to you, your office, hospital, or someone's house, but you all must be present and sign at the same time.

To find a notary public, you can search online for the notaries in your area. In addition, banks, libraries, and post offices frequently have notaries on site. Notaries usually charge a small fee for their services, although if you hire a mobile notary to travel to you it can cost more. You can also use the American Society of Notaries to find a notary close to you.

Sign up for a free Cake account today for more helpful guidance on preparing now so your loved ones know your wishes once you’re gone.