Not all legal documents need to be witnessed, but if you have a legal document, such as a mortgage or a will, chances are, you want a witness to be able to confirm before a court of law that you signed it.
Individuals who serve as witnesses to legal documents verify that the signature on the document belongs to the person with that name. In other words, witnesses protect against forgery. If a question regarding the signature on a legal document comes up, a witness may be called upon to testify in court that the individual whose name is on the legal document signed the document in their presence.
Depending on where you live, the court may request or require that certain legal documents be witnessed by one or more people. Legal documents that often need witnesses include: wills, mortgages, contracts, divorce decrees and other property settlement documents.
Who Can Be a Witness
A lawyer, a notary public or a third-party without an interest in the document may serve as a witness to a legal document. In some states, a lawyer's or notary's signature may be required on certain documents to limit the chance of forgery.
Who Shouldn't Be a Witness
Your spouse or another member of your family should not serve as a witness to any legal document you sign. Even if neither party is named in the document, the court holds that your spouse and any relatives still have an interest in your property. Family members by marriage are also perceived to have an interest in your property and should not witness a legal document for you.
Any individual named in a legal document cannot act as a witness to that document. So, if you named your best friend in your will, he cannot serve as a witness. Also, all witnesses to legal documents must be over the age of 18 at the time they witness your signature.