Who Can Witness a Will and What Are the Requirements to Be a Witness?

A will is a legal document that sets forth a person’s wishes as to how their property should be distributed after they die. In order for a will to be legally recognized, it must be witnessed by at least two people. In most cases, the witnesses are unrelated or relatives of the deceased individual who have no vested interest in the division of the estate. The role of a witness is simply to verify that the testator willingly wrote and executed their will in front of them. In some cases, however, a witness may be called upon to serve as executor or trustee for the estate after it has been opened. In these situations, it is important that the witness be someone who is both trustworthy and capable of handling the affairs of the estate.

Why Wills Need to Be Witnessed

A will must be witnessed in order to be considered valid. This is because, when a person dies, their will goes into effect and their property is distributed according to its terms. If there is any question as to whether or not the will is valid, the court will often look to the witnesses to provide evidence that it was properly executed. In addition, the witnesses who provide their signatures help to prove that the deceased individual was of sound mind and not under duress or undue influence when they created the will.

Types of Witnesses

The following are types of witnesses who can witness a will:

Two Attesting Witnesses

The two witnesses who sign the will attest that it was executed and remain valid. They can be a family member or a friend but must remain impartial and have no interest in the property being distributed. The attesting witness is not necessarily involved in or related to the beneficiary of the estate, but must be present when the executor reads over the contents of the will and asks if anyone has any objections before they make their final determination.

Two Subscribing Witnesses

Two additional witnesses who may or may not be involved in or related to the beneficiary of the estate, but who sign their name as a confirmation that the executor read over the will and all its contents. Subscribing witnesses can be anyone who is not a beneficiary of the will and who is not mentioned in it.

The Independent Witness

An independent witness is an individual who is not a beneficiary or an executor of the will, but who has been appointed by the court to oversee its execution. This type of witness is often necessary if there is any question as to the validity of the will.

Requirements to Be a Witness

In order to serve as a witness, an individual must be both competent and impartial. This means that the person: – Must be at least 18 years old – Must be able to understand what they are witnessing and sign their name demonstrating this understanding. One of the most common ways to assess competence is by asking if the witness knows how to read and write. – Cannot derive any benefit from the will. For example, a witness may not be a beneficiary of the estate or be related to those who are beneficiaries. – Has no conflict of interest in the matter such as any type of ongoing legal dispute with the deceased individual or if they have been named as executor, trustee, etc., for the will’s administration. It is important to note that meeting these requirements does not guarantee that a person will be able to act as a witness. If the court has any reason to believe that the individual may not be impartial or is not competent, they may be disqualified from serving.

Costs and Time Commitment of Being a Witness

There is no cost to be a witness for a will, but the time commitment can be significant. Witnesses are often required to attend court proceedings and may be asked to provide testimony in order to help prove the validity of the will. In some cases, the executor of the estate may also ask the witness to provide assistance in distributing the property according to the terms of the will. It is important that anyone who is considering serving as a witness for a will understands what this entails and is willing and able to meet these commitments.

The Bottom Line

The courts rely on witnesses to provide evidence that the will was properly executed and there are no concerns with its validity. While there are no costs or time commitments involved, witnesses must be approved by the court before they can sign their name as part of the will. If you need help understanding whether you’re eligible to serve as a witness, or if you want to know more about the process involved in witnessing a will, you should discuss your situation with a legal professional.

A will is a legal document that determines how an individual's property should be distributed after they pass away. Because the property can be significant in size and value, wills must be witnessed and notarized.
A witness is an individual who confirms that the will was correctly executed. This includes confirming that the executor met all of the requirements to act as such, reading over the entire contents of the will and that the will was properly executed. Witnesses also ensure that they are not beneficiaries of the will or related to those who are beneficiaries. They must be at least 18 years old and understand what they are witnessing when signing their name.
Any individual who meets the requirements can be a witness for a will. That includes people who are related to those mentioned in the will or beneficiaries of that estate. They must not be named as executors and they cannot consciously derive any benefit from the will, such as receiving an inheritance.
The process for becoming a witness is relatively simple. First, the individual must be at least 18 years old and competent to understand what they are witnessing. They cannot be a beneficiary of the will or related to any beneficiaries. Then, they must read over the entire contents of the will and confirm that it was correctly executed. Finally, they must sign their name next to the executor, indicating that they witnessed the will.
No. A spouse cannot serve as a witness unless they are also the sole beneficiary of the will and there is no concern about any conflict of interest. A child (or someone else who derives benefit from the will) may be able to act as a witness, but not if they are involved in a dispute with the estate.

True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

About the Author
True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

True Tamplin is a published author, public speaker, CEO of UpDigital, and founder of Finance Strategists.

True is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF®), author of The Handy Financial Ratios Guide, a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing, contributes to his financial education site, Finance Strategists, and has spoken to various financial communities such as the CFA Institute, as well as university students like his Alma mater, Biola University, where he received a bachelor of science in business and data analytics.

To learn more about True, visit his personal website, view his author profile on Amazon, or check out his speaker profile on the CFA Institute website.