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FAQ: The difference between a 'living will' and a last will and testament

Last will and testaments document

Updated 8-29-23. You may be asked at some point to notarize either a “living will” or a last will and testament. While the names are very similar, these two types of documents have completely different purposes. Here are answers to frequently asked Notary questions about the difference between “living wills” versus “last wills and testaments.”

How is a ‘living will’ different from a ‘last will and testament?’

A “living will” is a written statement concerning an individual’s medical treatment wishes in the event the individual’s health prevents them from making those decisions at the time of need. A “last will and testament” is a document providing instructions for the disposition of a signer’s estate after the testator’s death. Depending on state law, it may also address other matters such as the disposition of the deceased’s remains and guardianship of the testator’s children. Thus, a “living will” operates during a person’s life, while a “last will and testament” takes effect upon the testator’s death. 

Are there any special rules when notarizing a ‘living will?’

No, a “living will” may be notarized like any other document. While often there are statutory rules for the execution and even notarization of a last will and testament, this is not the case with a living will. Of course, all practices required by law, such as the signer appearing in person before the Notary and being positively identified, should be followed.

Can a last will and testament be notarized?

It depends. A last will and testament is a complex document, and Notaries must be cautious when asked to notarize one. In some states notarizing a last will and testament is not required by law, while in others it may be one of several witnessing options.

Notarization alone will not satisfy a signing or witnessing requirement if a specific procedure required by law for signing the last will and testament is not followed. A Notary who is presented with a last will and testament should notarize it only if clear instructions and an appropriate notarial certificate are provided.

Even if a last will and testament is not notarized, state laws may authorize certain last wills to be made “self-proving” if affidavits of the witnesses to the signing and the acknowledgment of the testator are notarized. Any Notary may notarize these affidavits and acknowledgments.

What should I do if a signer has questions about notarizing a living will or a last will and testament?

Ideally, a signer should obtain directions from an attorney before requesting notarization of a living will or a last will and testament, since the slightest variance from state law may invalidate these documents. For example, some handwritten last wills may be invalidated if notarized. Notarization by itself does not make a ;last will “legal” or “valid” and it is important that Notaries not offer advice regarding preparation or the legal effects of a last will. A Notary may not determine the type of notarial act or certificate required for a last will and testament, even if asked to do so by the signer. These questions should be referred to an attorney.

Additional Resources:

Notarize a Will


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01 Apr 2017

Can I handwrite my "Living Will" instructions and then get it notarized? THank You.

National Notary Association

03 Apr 2017

Hello. We're sorry, but we cannot advise you whether or not a handwritten living will document is acceptable in your state. You should speak with your primary care physician or an attorney about any questions regarding your state's requirements for preparing a living will.

Michelle McPheeters

19 Sep 2017

In Ohio is it required a last will in testament be notarized?

National Notary Association

20 Sep 2017

Hello Michelle. Any questions regarding the legal requirements for preparing a will would need to be answered by a qualified attorney.

Kimberly Tate

05 Jul 2018

If a last will and testament is drawer up by a lawyer does it have to be notarized by a notary???

National Notary Association

06 Jul 2018

A last will and testament is a complex and sensitive legal document that can take different forms, depending on state law. Some wills legally require notarization, some do not and may actually be invalidated if they are notarized, and some allow notarization as one of several witnessing options. Notaries must never offer advice on how to execute a will, because they could be held liable for a named beneficiary's failure to inherit assets if the will is improperly done and therefore invalidated.

Jenny Wilson

03 Jul 2019

I was wonder if a letter that said “oath” on top, I’m guessing part of the will. Can it be notarized after this signed has passed away

National Notary Association

22 Jul 2019

Hello. It is not possible to notarize the signature of a deceased person, as there is no way for the deceased to personally appear before the Notary, present identification or verify the signer's willingness and awareness.

16 Jan 2020

can i notarize my mother's living will if i am listed as a healthcare agent

National Notary Association

16 Jan 2020

Many states prohibit Notaries from notarizing if the Notary is named in the document or is a party to the document. If you can tell us what state you are commissioned in, we can provide you with more information specific to your jurisdiction.

05 Nov 2020

I'm in WA state, Can I notarized my co-worker's last will?

National Notary Association

10 Nov 2020

Hello. Wills are complex legal documents, and Notaries should not proceed with notarizing unless provided with authoritative legal instructions. For more information, please see here:


16 Nov 2020

We live in N.Y. On a low fixed income. Want to know how to do a living will and can a relative that is a Notary, notarize it?

National Notary Association

17 Nov 2020

Hello. Any questions about preparing a legal document would need to be answered by a qualified professional authorized to give legal advice about the document, such as an attorney.

Leona Jeffery

20 Nov 2021

I have been asked by Texas couple to notarize a last will and testament for them. Please help.

National Notary Association

01 Dec 2021

Hello. Please see here for more information:

Dorian Jennings

15 Jan 2022

Does a do it yourself will have to be registered at the city clerks office? In the state of Indiana. I don’t have a computer with printer can I had print my answers with black ink

National Notary Association

18 Jan 2022

Hello. We're sorry, but any questions about the preparation of a will would need to be answered by a qualified attorney.

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