A will is a valid legal document in any state, provided that it meets the laws and qualifications of that jurisdiction. In North Carolina, requirements for legal wills appear in Chapter 31 of the state’s General Statutes. Your will does not have to be notarized for it to be a valid, legal document. Even if it is notarized, it may not be valid and legal unless it meets the state’s other requirements.
North Carolina requires the signatures of at least two witnesses on wills, although you have the option of using more. If any of your witnesses are also beneficiaries in your will, you’ll need two others in addition to that person. There’s no legal requirement that your witnesses must sign the will in each other’s presence. However, as a practical matter, they must do so in your presence after watching you sign, so this necessitates everyone signing together.
If you want to have your will notarized, this usually entails attaching a separate document to “self-prove” it. In addition to their signatures on your will, your witnesses can attest in a separate affidavit that your will is authentic and they watched you sign it. If you do this, your witnesses will not have to appear in court when you die to state the same information under oath. A notary must witness their signatures and sign the affidavit as well to ensure the probate court accepts it as a legal document.
Your witnesses' signatures confirm that you appeared to be of sound mind at the time they watched you sign your will. Their signatures also confirm they know you’re over the age of 18 -- or you’re married, if you’re younger than 18 -- so you have the legal right to leave a will. This also ensures that the court will accept your will as a legal document.
North Carolina might accept your will as a legal document even if you don’t meet all the statutory requirements for signatures. For example, holographic or handwritten wills are legal in North Carolina. Such a will doesn’t require witnesses or notarization, but it must be written entirely in your own handwriting and you’ll have to make sure someone will find it among your other personal papers after your death. Alternatively, you can give it to someone for safekeeping, but you should specifically state that it’s your last will and testament. Four witnesses must testify in court after your death. Three must swear that the will is in your handwriting and one must swear as to how it was found. If any of these conditions are not met, the court won’t accept your will as a legally binding document.
After your will is completed, you can accidentally invalidate the entire document if you attempt to amend it by writing the changes on it. This is true even if you have self-proved it. Instead, add a “codicil,” which is a separate document explaining your changes. A codicil is subject to all the same requirements as your original will. You can also revoke the will and write a new one. Your new one should specifically state that you’re revoking or invalidating any wills that you wrote before.
Beverly Bird is a practicing paralegal who has been writing professionally on legal subjects for over 30 years. She specializes in family law and estate law and has mediated family custody issues.