Does the State of Wisconsin Require a Will to Be Notarized?

By Wayne Thomas
Notarizing a will can help avoid challenges to the validity of the will in Wisconsin.

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The requirements of a valid will in Wisconsin are defined by state law and control who qualifies to make a will and what form the document must take. Although Wisconsin law does not require wills to be notarized, many will-makers choose this option in order to limit challenges to the document's validity after death.

Basic Requirements

In Wisconsin, wills can be made by any person 18 years old or older who is of "sound mind." Sound mind simply means that, at the time the will is executed, the person making the will, referred to as the testator, fully understands the nature of his property as well as the individuals that may stand to receive the property. For example, a testator may not have sound mind to make a will if at the time the will is executed he holds the irrational belief that his son lives on Venus and any property the son receives will be used to further a plot to take over the world.

Witnesses

Wills executed in Wisconsin must be in writing and signed by the testator, or by another person at the express direction of the testator and in his presence. In addition, the will must be signed by at least two witnesses within a reasonable amount of time after either the testator signs the document in the presence of the witnesses, or acknowledges the will or his signature in the presence of the witnesses. Unlike other states, wills authored in the testator's own handwriting, known as holographic wills, are not valid unless the formal signing and witnessing requirements are met.

Self-Proving Affidavit

Although your will does not need to be notarized in order to be considered valid in Wisconsin, it is not uncommon for testators to execute what are known as self-proving affidavits. Self-proving affidavits must be notarized and simply attest that the execution of the will fully complied with state law, and that there was no undue influence or coercion applied to the testator throughout the process. The affidavits may be completed at the time the will is executed as a one-step procedure, or at a later date as a two-step procedure. The purpose of the affidavit is to provide proof of the validity of the will, if its legitimacy is called into question after your death.

Wills Not Notarized

After you die, your will must be submitted to probate. Probate is the court-supervised process that will effectively transfer ownership of your property according to your will. The first step in probate involves "proving" the validity of your will to the satisfaction of a judge. Depending on whether specific challenges are brought, the testimony of your witnesses may be necessary if other evidence is lacking. In the event that your witnesses cannot be found or do not remember the signing, your will may be declared invalid. In that case, your property would pass according to Wisconsin's intestacy rules. These rules are rigid and prioritize heirs based on their legal relationship to you, which may conflict with how you desired your property to pass under the will. Wills that have an accompanying self-proving affidavit generally do not need to be proved, which can provide peace of mind to you and remove much of the pressure on your witnesses after your death.

About the Author

Wayne Thomas earned his J.D. from Penn State University and has been practicing law since 2008. He has experience writing about environmental topics, music and health, as well as legal issues. Since 2011, Thomas has also served as a contributing editor for the "Vermont Environmental Monitor."

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