A will is a legal document that describes who the testator wants to inherit her property at her death. State laws regarding wills differ, but most states place great importance on how the will is signed, or executed. Typically, states require that the testator sign the will in the presence of two adult witnesses. Some states require uninterested witnesses -- those not inheriting under the will. Some allow a notary to take the place of a witness.
A will becomes effective when the person making it -- the testator -- dies. Since the testator is not around to answer questions, most states require that she sign the will in the presence of two witnesses. It isn't necessary to notarize a basic will, but it's essential for a self-proving will.
After the testator dies, the will is filed in probate court, where the judge determines its validity. The witnesses can be called into court to testify that the testator was of sound mind when she signed the will and that she knew what she was signing. This step can be avoided in many states by having a notary witness the signature of the testator and her witnesses. This document is termed a self-proving affidavit.
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