The importance of witnesses in signing wills

| Jun 30, 2020 | Estate Planning |

It is not enough to compose and sign a will to make it a binding legal document. To protect against forgeries and fraud, Pennsylvania law also requires that a person who makes a will, known as a testator, should perform this act while in the presence of two witnesses who must also sign the document.

The signatures of witnesses help show a court that a will reflects the true intentions of a testator. It may prevent a will contest or at least help shed light on the authenticity of a will if a family member of a deceased person decides a will is fraudulent and decides to contest it.

Protection against forgeries

Some people may believe that their signature should be enough to authenticate their will. The problem is that a malicious party, perhaps a caretaker for the testator, could forge the signature of the testator onto a new will that invalidates the old will and leaves everything the testator owns to the caretaker. If two people witness a will signing and sign the will themselves, they may testify that they never witnessed the signing of another will, helping to protect the testator against fraud.

Protection for the disabled

Witnesses have special importance for the infirm or disabled, particularly those who cannot sign their own wills. Pennsylvania law makes provisions for these people by allowing them to apply a mark to their wills that is as valid as a handwritten signature. People who are so disabled that they cannot affix a mark at all may still compose a will and declare the will to be theirs.

The fact that some legal wills do not require signatures might make it seem easy to forge a document without needing to duplicate the signature of the testator. To help validate these wills, state law requires witnesses to be present in these situations. These witnesses must also sign the will. So a lack of witness signatures on a will without a signature could indicate that the document is not authentic.