When many clients envision what it’s like to prepare their wills, they imagine an empty room with their estate planning attorney at a desk signing a document to establish who inherits their property after they die. They get a feeling that invokes both relief and uncertainty for the future.

However, many do not realize that you and your attorney are not the only ones in the room during your will signing. Even if you enjoy having everything privately, Ohio requires you to have two adult witnesses, who are not benefitting from the Last Will, witnessing you sign the necessary documents in their presence. 

As your attorney and members of their firm are not beneficiaries under your Will, they may serve, if you wish, as the witnesses to its signing.

Another common misconception is that Last Wills in Ohio require notarization; they do not.

Ohio’s will witness laws

Ohio requires at least two or more competent witnesses in the presence when you sign your will. The witnesses must confirm that you were in sound mind to do so and that you were not under any duress at the moment. They must also sign the will with you so they can confirm their presence and be contacted after your death.

This also applies for actions outside of the standard will. For example, if the testator made a holographic will (which is a will entirely handwritten by the testator), they must still be present to confirm that it was your writing and sign the will with you. While some states do not accept holographic wills in the post-death property division, Ohio does as long as there is sufficient evidence that confirms that testator made the holographic will and there were witnesses.

Choosing the right witnesses

The main part you need to keep in mind when selecting your two witnesses is that they cannot be beneficiaries of your estate. If you were to appoint your daughter as a witness and she receives a significant portion of your assets, this could lead to other beneficiaries accusing her of altering the will in her favor. You need to have two disinterested people who will not inherit anything from you, they are just there to confirm you were in the right mindset when you signed it.

Preferably, these people should also be younger than you to avoid any trouble. Ohio does not allow for self-proving affidavits, which are signatures by you and your witnesses which serve as evidence that you signed the will of sound mind without requiring the witnesses to attest it. If a witness dies before you, becomes a beneficiary or severs all contact with you and your family, you might need to update your will with a different witness to avoid your will going to probate.

If you need assistance planning which witnesses should appear at your will signing, you should contact an estate planning attorney to narrow down your recommendations.