Making a will is one of the most important steps you can take to protect your family and preserve your assets after you die. Learn the most frequently asked questions about Washington state wills and how the answers to these FAQs help you create a valid will according to Washington law.
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What If I Die Without a Will in Washington?
Creating a Washington lets you explain how you want your family or loved ones to inherit your personal property or real estate. If a Washington resident decedent dies without a valid will, they die “intestate.” In this situation, the court divides the assets according to Washington state law and intestacy statutes.
If there is a surviving spouse and/or children, they will inherit the estate. If no spouse or child exists, parents, siblings, grandparents, or other next of kin inherit the estate.
What Does a Will Do?
A last will and testament allows you to do the following:
- Identify your real estate and personal property
- Name beneficiaries who will inherit that property according to your wishes
- Choose a personal representative or executor who is responsible for collecting your assets, submitting your will to the probate court, making sure to follow your wishes, and distributing your assets to your beneficiaries
- Select a guardian to care for your minor children
- Name a caregiver and set aside money for the care of your pets.
Because you make these decisions, a probate court doesn’t have to, speeding up the probate process and saving your estate time and money.
What Doesn’t a Will Do?
Your will distributes much of your property and assets, but some assets do not pass through a will. These are non–probate assets. This type of asset passes according to the terms in its own legal document. These may include:
- Property owned as joint tenants with right of survivorship
- Trusts, including living trusts and assets owned by trusts
- Funds in payable on death or transfer on death bank accounts
- Life insurance payments (to beneficiaries other than to the estate itself)
You should check that these accounts and policies have the correct beneficiary and a backup beneficiary. Your primary beneficiary may die before you. Any account or policy without a beneficiary designation becomes part of your probate estate.
Who Can Make a Will in Washington?
To create a will in Washington, the person making the will, called the testator must meet the following requisites:
- Age: You must be age 18 years of age to make a will in Washington.
- Sound Mind: Being of sound mind means the person making the will knows and understands what they own, their natural heirs, how they want to distribute their property, and they are signing their will.
Washington residents with concerns about their capacity to make a will may want to consult an estate planning attorney for legal advice and assistance.
Does Washington Have a Statutory Will?
No. Washington does not have a statutory will or specific form required by the state. You can create your own customized will or hire an estate planning attorney to make one for you. Many Washington residents use do-it-yourself legal resources such as FindLaw Legal Forms and Services to make their will according to Washington laws.
What Types of Wills Does Washington Accept?
You can make a will in many formats. But there are only some that a Washington probate court accepts. These are the various ways to make a last will and testament, and if they are valid in Washington:
- Handwritten Will: A handwritten will (also called a “holographic will”) is typically written entirely in your handwriting and does not have witnesses. Washington does not permit holographic or handwritten wills.
- Oral Will: A spoken or oral will (also called a nuncupative will) is only valid if made by a U.S. service member or merchant marine at a time of “last sickness” within six months of submission to the court. It may include property not exceeding $1000 and may not include real property. There must be two witnesses, and the testator must intend it as their will.
- Electronic Will: Washington has adopted the Uniform Electronic Wills Act. This act permits an electronic will if it is readable as text at the time of signing, the testator signs it electronically or physically (or directs someone else to sign it), and two competent witnesses are present (physically or electronically). The testator must intend this document as their will.
These methods are risky and subject to challenges of fraud or mistake, so a typed will you sign before two witnesses is the best method.
Can I Make My Own Will in Washington?
Yes. You can make your own will in Washington State. You are not required to use an attorney to draft a will. However, because a will is a legal document, you want to create a will that the court will accept. Consider using a state-specific will-making service such as FindLaw Legal Forms and Services to make sure you make a valid will.
How Do I Make My Will Valid in Washington?
To make a new will in Washington, you must follow certain formalities for a valid will:
- Signature: The testator must sign their will or direct someone else to sign for them. That person must then sign their name and indicate they signed for the testator at their request unless the testator can make a mark on the will indicating their approval.
- Witnesses: Two competent witnesses must be present at the will’s signing. A competent witness is one who is able to testify in court about the will signing. When possible, do not use “interested witnesses.” An interested witness is one who receives a bequest under the will. Unless there are two other uninterested witnesses, if a witness gets a bequest, there is a rebuttable presumption that the witness used duress, fraud, or undue influence. The witness-beneficiary has to prove this is NOT the case to inherit. If they cannot prove this, they only receive what they would receive under the intestacy statute. The will itself is valid if a witness is interested.
- Notary: There is no requirement that a notary public witness or sign the will.
- Self-Proving Affidavit: A self-proving affidavit is a separate document you can attach to the will, which includes a sworn statement by the testator and witnesses. A notary public verifies the signatures and identities of the parties and signs the affidavit. This affidavit allows the court to probate the will without testimony by the witnesses, who otherwise may need to appear in court to verify its authenticity.
Can I Disinherit My Spouse in Washington?
You are not required to include your spouse or domestic partner in your will. However, if you omit them, they are entitled to the amount they would receive if you died intestate unless the court determines that a smaller amount is in keeping with your intent. If you wish to disinherit your spouse, you should include a statement in the will that you are explicitly doing so and the reason. They may still be able to seek a family support award in this case.
Can I Disinherit My Children in Washington?
You can disinherit your child in the state of Washington. However, a court may consider them an omitted or forgotten child, left out of your will by mistake. They may receive what they would receive under the intestacy statute unless there is evidence that a smaller amount is in keeping with your intent. To disinherit a child in a will, it is best to state you are doing so and give the reason.
What Estate Planning Documents Should I Have in Washington?
In addition to your will, you should create several other necessary documents as part of a complete estate plan. These include:
- Power of Attorney. This document lets you name someone you trust as your agent to manage your financial affairs when you cannot. Some do this in case of incapacity or sometimes for convenience. You decide what power to give your agent and when the authority begins and ends.
- Health Care Directive. A health care directive, living will, or advance directive in Washington, states your wishes about end-of-life medical care and life-supporting treatment if you have a terminal or irreversible condition. You can also name someone to get your medical information and make health care decisions for you if you become unable to do so for yourself. Making these decisions yourself is helpful so the burden doesn’t fall on your loved ones.
Fortunately, making a valid will and creating other Washington estate planning documents is easy with online estate planning templates.