How to Execute a Last Will and Testament


A will must be executed properly or it may be invalid. The problem with an invalid will is that you do not know the will is invalid until the will is filed, which occurs upon the author's death. This makes a revision or correction of the original will impossible. Therefore, the proper execution, or signing of a will, is very important as to its legality. Each state has certain requirements for signing a will, and there are several types of forms used.

Things You'll Need

  • Two witnesses who are not family members or heirs in the will (this varies from state to state)
  • A notary public registered in the state where the will is created
  • Review the will carefully. A will is the last word of the testator, or author of the will, regarding how his property should be distributed upon his death. The testator should totally agree with the terms set forth in the will.

  • Sign the will. The testator should use a blue ink pen to initial and number the pages of the will in the side margin of the document (e.g. if the testator is Diane Smith, she would write "ds #1" in the side margin). This step helps ensure that a different page cannot be substituted after the testator has signed the document. The blue ink helps verify that the document signed is the original document and not a photocopy. The original will should be filed with probate court at the time of the testator's death.

    Depending on the form used for the will and the requirements for the state in which the will is executed, the testator must sign at the end of the will and again at the paragraph where she confirms that she is of legal age and mentally capable to make a will. The testator must sign the document in the presence of two witnesses and a notary public.

    The witnesses should sign in the presence of the testator, notary and in the presence of each other. Some states require that the witnesses provide their address in case the validity of the will ever comes into question and the witness could be called to testify regarding the competency of the testator. The witnesses are swearing that the testator understood the will and was mentally stable when she signed the will.

    The notary then signs the last paragraph of the will, which is an acknowledgment section. The notary is swearing that he saw the testator sign and the witnesses sign and that everyone appears to be mentally stable and under no duress to sign the will. An act done under duress is an action done under a use of force or undue influence, and a will executed under duress is invalid.

  • Finally, the original will is given to the testator with instructions to keep the will in a safe place with other important documents. Some testators choose to tell the executor of the will -- the person whom the testator chooses to execute the will upon her death -- the location of it so it may be filed with the proper court upon her death.

Tips & Warnings

  • It is not always wise to put a will in a safe deposit box, as many testators do, at a bank because the authority to enter the box may not be granted to the executor upon the testator's death. If a bank is used for storage, the testator should ensure that the executor has a key to the safe deposit box and that the executor's name is on the box to ensure the will can be retrieved.
  • Be aware that several states have different requirements regarding the number of witnesses required for the proper execution of a will. Please check with your state government.


  • "Administration of Wills, Trusts and Estates"; Gordon Brown and Scott Myers, 2008
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