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Self-proving affidavits are sworn statements by eyewitnesses that the will has been duly executed. The affidavit performs virtually all the functions of an attestation clause, and has the further effect of permitting probate without requiring the appearance of either witness. Wills may be made self-proving simultaneous with or after execution.
Decedent Russell Ranney executed an instrument purporting to be his last will and testament, but the two witnesses, John Schuster, III and Laura Stout, who were required by N.J. Stat. Ann. § 3B:3-2 to sign the attestation clause of the will, only executed an attached self-proving affidavit. On decedent's death, the will was ordered to be probated. Upon Betty Ranney’s motion, the chancery court reversed, finding the attesting witnesses had not strictly complied with the requirements of § 3B:3-2. Respondent will proponent brought the matter before the appellate division, which reversed, ruling that the self-proving affidavit was part of the will and that the witnesses' signatures thereon constituted signatures on the will. Betty Ranney sought review of the appellate division's order of probate.
Should Russel Ranney’s will be denied probate on the basis of its failure to satisfy with the attestation requirements under N.J. Stat. Ann. § 3B:3-2?
The Court affirmed the appellate court’s decision. According to the Court, although the signatures on the self-proving affidavit did not comply with the requirements of § 3B:3-2, probate was proper, where an instrument substantially complied with the requirements of the law. The Court averred that a will failing to satisfy the attestation requirements should not be denied probate when the witnesses have substantially complied with those requirements and the testator clearly intended to make a will. It remanded the cause to the trial court for hearing to determine whether the decedent's instrument was in substantial compliance with §3B:3-2 and, if so, for the instrument to be probated as a will.