The signature of the testator, or will maker, need not be notarized, nor can a notarized signature replace the legal requirement of two subscribing witnesses to the will. A notary's function is to assure that the person signing a document is the person claiming to sign a document -- a function performed by comparing identification and sometimes fingerprints -- while witnesses to a will must also affirm testamentary capacity and intent.
Most states require that two witnesses subscribe to the execution of a prepared will. Since the testator is deceased, he cannot verify his signature nor testify as to his intent, so the witnesses testify in his place. Generally, witnesses must swear to the testator's identity -- that the person who signed the will was who he claimed to be -- that he was of legal age, possessed the required testamentary capacity, executed the will of his own free will and had full knowledge of the contents of the will. As of November 2010, no state requires that the testator's signature be notarized.
Witnesses must be 18 years or older and of sound mind. The law prefers disinterested witnesses -- witnesses who are not also heirs under the will -- and the majority of states specifically require them. In those states, a witness who also stands to inherit under the will may lose the inheritance. While a notary can serve as a witness to a will, she will sign as a disinterested witness, not as a notary.
Once a will is admitted into probate, the signature must be proved to be that of the deceased. The subscribing witnesses generally must testify in probate court. The parties can avoid this inconvenience if a notary is present at the time the will is executed. The testator and witnesses sign the will and acknowledge their signatures in the presence of a notary public who affirms their signatures. If this procedure is followed, the will is termed "self-proving" and no other testimony is required to prove the will.
Read More: What Is the Act or Process of Proving the Validity of a Will?
Holographic wills, or handwritten wills, are valid in many states, including California. Holographic wills by definition cannot be preprinted, nor should printed materials be incorporated into them. These wills do not require affirming witnesses or need the testator's signature be notarized. According to the National Notary Association, some holographic wills are invalidated by notarization.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.