Not all legal documents must be witnessed. However, if you have a legal document, such as a mortgage or some other type of contract, a witness to the signatures can provide evidence in case there’s a question or dispute about who signed the document. In general, a witness is a disinterested third party, such as a notary public or a lawyer. Any impartial third party can witness as long as they are 18 years of age or older.
What Is the Purpose of a Witness?
Persons who act as witnesses to legal documents verify and confirm that the signature on the document belongs to the individual with that name. In other words, the service that witnesses perform helps to protect against forgery. The witness has actually to see that person apply their signature to the document. If a question regarding the signature on a legal paper arises, witnesses may be called upon to testify in court that the legal document was signed in their presence by the person whose name and signature are on the document.
What Types of Legal Documents Need Witnesses?
Depending on your geographical location, a court may request or require that specific legal documents be witnessed by one or more persons. Legal documents that are often in need of witnesses include:
- Divorce decrees
- Property settlement documents
Who Can Serve as a Witness?
An impartial lawyer, notary public, or third-party without any interest in the legal document may serve as a witness to the document. A lawyer’s or notary’s signature may be required on specific legal papers to limit any chance of forgery (in some states). As long as the person has no interest in the outcome of any legal process or proceeding related to the document, is at least 18 years of age, and of sound mind, he or she can serve as a witness.
Who Shouldn’t Serve as a Witness?
A spouse, family member, or partner should not be chosen to serve as a witness to any legally binding document that you sign. Even if the person is not named in the document, certain people may still have an interest in you, your property, or in the outcome of a lawsuit. Choosing family members by marriage to be witnesses should also be avoided, as they could be perceived to be interested parties. The key is to find a person who is disinterested and impartial.
Are There Other Witness Requirements?
An individual named in a legal document cannot serve as a witness to that document. A person named in the legal document could be considered an interested party, and an interested party cannot act as a witness, as they cannot be impartial. Also, witnesses to legal papers must be over the age of 18 when they witness a signature, and they must be considered of sound mind.
If you’d like further information on notaries and witnesses, or need help with legal documents contact an attorney in your local area and schedule a consultation.