Legal documents don’t automatically become usable as soon as you print or download them—they still need to be executed properly. You probably already know that legal documents need to be signed, but another common requirement is to have your signature witnessed by a third-party.

In this post, we’ll walk you through what a witness is, why they’re important, and what to do if you don’t have one.

Related Documents: Last Will and Testament, Power of Attorney, Living Will

What is a Witness in a Legal Document?

In a legal contract, a witness is someone who watches the document be signed by the person they are being a witness for and who verifies its authenticity by singing their own name on the document as well.

Legally, a witness must meet the requirements set out by your jurisdiction, but most often, witnesses must be:

  • Of the age of majority in your state or province
  • Able to confirm the identity of the person who is signing the document
  • Of sound mind (has the mental capacity to make decisions without assistance)
  • A neutral third-party

It’s best if your witness is not involved in the contract you are signing and that they don’t receive any benefits from the agreement that is detailed in the contract. For example, a witness in your Last Will and Testament should not be a beneficiary of your estate.

Does My Contract Have to be Witnessed?

Most legal documents don’t have to be witnessed, but that isn’t to say they shouldn’t be.

Having a witness helps to reinforce the validity and authenticity of your document by adding another layer of security should your contract ever be questioned in court.

For example, when a document is signed by a neutral, third-party witness, it helps to prove that the document was signed willingly and not through undue influence, coercion, or duress.

Alternately, some documents do have to be witnessed, such as a Last Will and Testament.

To determine whether your document needs to be witnessed, check your jurisdiction’s requirements for the document you are signing. 

What if I Don’t Have a Witness for my Contract?

As mentioned, most contracts don’t explicitly require that you have a witness. But for documents that do, it’s important that you complete this step or you may be unable to use your document as intended.

If you don’t have someone who can act as a witness for you, such as a friend or acquaintance, you can consider having a lawyer or notary public act as your witness instead.

Keep in mind that some documents may require both witness and notary signatures, and that they should not be from the same person.

The Benefits of Witnesses

Though witnesses aren’t always a requirement for executing a legal document, they can help solidify and authenticate your contract by providing proof that the signatures are legitimate and consensual.

When they are required, they’re an important part of ensuring that your legal document is legally sound when it needs to be, keeping you from having to face the repercussions of having an invalid contract.

Posted by Brittany Foster

Brittany is a writer, editor, and content manager interested in law, marketing, and technology. She's been writing for LawDepot since 2014.