Creating a will is an important step in planning the distribution of your estate (assets including real and personal property) following your death. District of Columbia wills allow for any children, your spouse, other family members, and pets to be provided for after your death. LegalZoom works with the testator (or the person making the will), to create valid District of Columbia wills and to assign a person (called the executor in most states) to administer a District of Columbia last will and testament after the death of the testator.
Basic Requirements for a District of Columbia Last Will and Testament:
Age: The testator must be at least 18 years old.
Capacity: The testator must be of sound mind (capable of reasoning and making decisions), and capable of making a valid legal document or contract.
Signature: A District of Columbia last will and testament must be signed by the testator.
Witnesses: Two witnesses must sign a District of Columbia last will and testament in the testator's presence.
Beneficiaries: A will may make a disposition of property to any person.
Other types of recognized wills:
Nuncupative wills: Oral wills are only valid for a person in actual military or naval service or a mariner at sea. D.C. laws have specific requirements during the creation of the oral will to deem them valid.
Distribution of Property:
A will is a legal document created by you to determine how your property, known as your estate, is distributed after your death. Your estate consists of assets and property including bank accounts, homes, land, furniture, automobiles, and securities (stocks and bonds). In general, D.C. laws allow you to dispose of your property as you wish.
Other Purposes of Wills:
Our District of Columbia wills form may be used to designate a guardian for any minor children.
Our District of Columbia wills form may also be used to name an executor (also called a personal representative) to handle a testator's property and affairs from the time of death until an estate is settled.
Notable exceptions to the ability to distribute property:
Property owned in joint tenancy with a right of survivorship automatically passes onto the surviving owner.
Homestead allowance: A surviving spouse is entitled to a homestead allowance of $15,000. If there is no surviving spouse, each surviving minor child and each surviving dependent child is entitled to a homestead allowance amounting to $15,000 divided by the number of surviving minor and surviving dependent children of the decedent.
Exempt property: The surviving spouse is entitled $10,000 in household furniture, automobiles, furnishings, appliances, and personal effects from the estate. If there is no surviving spouse, then the children are entitled to the same value of property.
Providing for Pets
D.C. law currently does not have specific statutes pertaining to providing care for pets. However, the testator may specify a beneficiary as the new owner of a pet using our District of Columbia wills form.
Changing and Revoking
Changing a Will
A District of Columbia will and testament may be changed whenever the testator desires.
A District of Columbia will and testament can be changed through a codicil, which is a document stating additions or changes to the original will. Codicils must be executed in accordance with D.C. laws.
Revoking a Will
A District of Columbia will and testament may be revoked by
(1) a later will, codicil, or other writing declaring the revocation.
(2) burning, tearing, canceling, or obliterating the will or codicil, or the part of the will, with the intention of revoking it, by the testator himself, or by a person in his presence and by his direction.
Probate and Estate Taxes
After the testator has died, probate procedures prove the validity of the District of Columbia last will, pay off debts and taxes of the estate, and distribute property as designated in the District of Columbia last will.
D.C. has decoupled its estate tax from the federal estate tax. This means that in some instances where federal estate tax would not be owed, under D.C. tax laws a return would still have to be filed for an estate covered by a District of Columbia last will due to a lower credit for estate taxes. Ten months after the death of the testator, the personal representative is required to file a return if taxes are due.
It is extremely important to make a District of Columbia will if you want to control the distribution of your estate. If you die without a valid will, you are said to have died "intestate" and your property will be distributed according to strict D.C. laws.
For example, a spouse will receive the entire estate when no children or parents exist at the time of the decedent's death. When only children survive after the death, then the children share the property in equal amounts.
If you make a District of Columbia will, your valid will prevents the laws of intestacy from deciding the distribution of your estate.