For a will to be accepted by a probate court, the executor must show that the document really is the will of the person it purports to be -- a process called proving the will. In the past, all wills were proved either by having one or two witnesses come into court to testify or swear in written, notarized statements called affidavits that they saw you sign your will.
Today, most states allow people to make their wills self-proving -- that is, they can be admitted in probate court without the hassle of herding up witnesses to appear in court or sign affidavits. This is accomplished when the person making the will and the witnesses all appear before a notary public and sign an affidavit under oath, verifying that all necessary formalities for execution have been satisfied.
If you live in a state that offers the self-proving option, the correct affidavit for your state is automatically produced, with accompanying instructions. With the exception of New Hampshire, the self-proving affidavit is not part of your will, but a separate document. To use it, you and your witnesses must first sign the will as discussed above. Then, you and your witnesses must sign the self-proving affidavit in front of a notary public. You need three individuals for this – the two witnesses and a notary public. The notary public should not also serve as a witness.
You may notarize your self-proving affidavit any time after the will is signed but, obviously, it is easiest to do it while all your witnesses are gathered together to watch you sign your will. Most notaries will charge at least a minimal amount for their services -- and will require you and your witnesses to present some identification verifying that you are who you claim to be.
Many younger people -- who are likely to make a number of wills before they die -- decide not to make their wills self-proving, due to the initial trouble of getting a notary at the signing. If you are one of these people, file the uncompleted affidavit and instructions in a safe place in case you change your mind later.
States without self-proving laws. The self-proving option is not available in the District of Columbia, Maryland, Ohio or Vermont. In these states, your executor will be required to prove your will.
States in which self-proving affidavits are not necessary. In California, Nevada, Illinois, and Indiana, the self-proving feature does not require a separate affidavit. Instead, the fact that the witnesses sign the will under the oath printed above their signatures is sufficient to have the will admitted into probate, unless a challenge is mounted. In these states, there is no need to take further steps to make a will self-proving.