Witnessing a document

person writing on white paper
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Witnessing 101

Choosing the appropriate witnesses to sign your Will can be crucial. A wrong choice or misplaced trust on this step could erase all your careful effort to create your Will. However, choosing an appropriate witness for any important document can be equally significant. Such documents include Myend’s Advance Care Plan, Funeral Plan and the Organ Donation and Euthanasia Statement.

So it is important that you are well informed about what a witness does and doesn’t. Keep in mind that depending on your local or national legal system, additional requirements may exist. Or alternatively, certain details might be different from place to place. As a result, you should always check with local or national authorities before you make any decisions.

Keeping this in mind, let’s have a look at certain important details about witnessing a document!

Why should you have a witness?

Legal Documents

The first reason is that most legal documents are notarized and/or signed by witnesses. Only then they are actually valid legal documents. Having one or multiple witnesses in this case, verifies that this is indeed your document. To a certain extent it may prove that your are signing the document voluntarily. Moreover, your witnesses’ signatures function as a safety net since they attest that you’re in a good mental state.

In short, the benefit of having a witness’ signature is that they attest that the instructions on the document are actually your words.

Myend Documents

However, there are more significant sides to this process, beyond legal validity. Witnessing Myend documents (excluding our legal Last Will) focuses on these other sides.

For instance, having a witness can be very emotionally meaningful to you, even if it’s not legally binding. Additionally, even though your Myend documents are not contractual, they can still have a positive psychological impact on your loved ones as well. For instance, your family may be relieved to know what your exact funeral wishes are. This way they bay be able to feel closer to you even after you are gone.

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What does a witness do?

By asking witnesses to sign your Myend documents you are validating that they are informed about your wishes. More importantly, with your witness’ signature you make it clear to everyone else that these are your wishes. In other words, a witness’ signature is a testament that these wishes and instructions are indeed yours.

Legal Documents

Additionally, the presence of witnesses often also validates, in a way, that you are in a good emotional and mental state to sign the will. That does not mean, though, that you always have to know your witnesses very well. 

For example, it is common that sometimes you sign your Last Will at a lawyer’s office. The lawyer often asks employees of the office to pop by to sign the Will as witnesses. Keep in mind, however, that the better the witness knows you, the more credibility their signature may have. In other words, the better they can say if you are signing the Will while being in the correct mental and emotional state. You may also have heard that as testamentary capacity.

Myend Documents

For non-legal documents, a witness’ signature doesn’t validate anyone’s mental state. This, again doesn’t include our Last Will and Testament which is legally binding. It does, though, provide a sense of security to your close friends and family. In other words, your close loved ones may take such a document more seriously under certain conditions: for example, if a witness saw that your mental and emotional state was good at the time of signing.

Witnesses & Law

Your witness might have to testify that they have seen you sign the Will. This could happen if a probate court decides that it’s necessary to verify that your Will was signed properly. Or that the content of the Will is indeed what the Testator (the person who wrote the Will) intended. Therefore, make sure that your witnesses are probably going to be available for when your Will is going to be used.

Even for non-legally binding documents, having a witness that is later available might be beneficiary. For example, your family can contact them to ask follow up questions. Therefore, it is advisable not to choose a witness who is considerably older than you. Or someone that you will probably outlive such as someone with a terminal illness.

Many countries and states require that your Will has to be signed only by two witnesses in order to be valid and legally binding. However, many others ask that you need to have three witnesses sign your Will if you want it to be legally valid. Make sure you check what applies for you before you make any final decisions.

Final Thoughts

To sum up, witnessing a document is easy but can be very significant. Firstly, it helps make your end of life documents legally valid. Secondly, a witness’ signature may help your family accept your wishes in non legal documents too. As a result, if your loved ones see that a witness is acknowledging your wishes, the may do the same; reaching in the meantime a sense of closure and peace, knowing what your wishes are.

But how do you choose a good witness though? You can read more on that on the next article of our series on witnessing.