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What happens if witnesses to a will signed long ago?

New Jersey residents looking pass on their estates after they die may have made wills that they wish to be upheld. However, depending on how long ago the wills were written, witnesses may need to be tracked down to confirm that they witnessed the signing. This is the case for all wills written before Sept. 1, 1978. Wills written after that date are considered to be "self-proving," and further confirmation at a probate court is not necessary.

When someone passes away, the executor named in the will presents it to the surrogate's office in the decedent's county of residence. For ten days following the death of the decedent, anyone with an interest in the estate may file a caveat, or objection to the existing will. Objections may happen because there are other copies of a will or other concerns with the will's validity.

If there are no objections, the will is accepted for probate and the executor begins executing the provisions therein. However, if there are objections, disputes or irregularities, the will is not accepted for probate and a formal probate proceeding will commence. If the will is not self-proving, then at least one of the witnesses must be located to confirm the will's validity. Validity is proven if the witness confirms that the testator signed willingly under no undue influence, was 18 years or older and was of sound mind.

Probate lawyers may recommend that clients review and renew their wills at least once every ten years. Not only does this help prevent confusing situations after death, but it ensures that the estate passes according to clients' wishes. Following major life events such as marriages, divorces, new children, acquisition of property and other situations, the will may updated to take these events into account.

Source: NJ.com, "Biz Brain: When a will's witnesses signed long ago", Karin Price Mueller, September 02, 2013

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