District of Columbia Last Will and Testament

Get the details on how last wills work in the District of Columbia, including information on how probate court works, what happens if you don’t have a last will, and more.

by Michelle Kaminsky, Esq.
updated May 02, 2022 ·  4min read

A last will and testament is an important step in planning the distribution of your estate (real and personal property) upon your death. District of Columbia wills permit the testator, the person writing the will, to provide for a spouse, children, other loved ones, and pets after his death as well as to name a personal representative for the estate.

Not to be confused with a will, a District of Columbia living will provides instructions should you become incapacitated and incapable of making decisions regarding your medical care.

Do You Need a Last Will and Testament?

Although a last will and testament is not legally required, without a will, state laws (called laws of intestacy) will determine the distribution of the deceased’s assets. The outcome may not coincide with the decedent's (the person who passed away) wishes, however, which means it is generally advisable to create a last will and testament.

In addition to providing the opportunity to direct asset distribution, A District of Columbia last will and testament form also allows the testator to make a charitable gift, create a trust for any person, name a legal guardian for minor children, or create a “pet trust” in order to provide for the care of an animal after its owner’s death.

Before the terms of a will can be accepted, the will must be proven in probate court. Probate is the court-supervised process of distributing the estate of a deceased person. Once the will is proven valid in probate court, the executor (the person overseeing the will) can then pay off any debts and taxes owed by the estate and then distribute the testator’s property according to the will.

Once the will is proven, the executor can proceed to wrap up the estate, which includes collecting and protecting property, paying off debts, and then distributing assets.

The District of Columbia offers supervised and unsupervised probate as well as options for small estates, including claiming property through an affidavit and using a simplified procedure for estates worth $40,000 or less.

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Intestacy: Dying Without a Will

Someone who dies without a will is called “intestate,” which invokes the strict laws of intestacy. In the District of Columbia in the absence of a will, a surviving spouse inherits the entire estate unless the decedent and surviving spouse share descendants, in which case the spouse inherits two-thirds of the estate. The spouse’s share varies depending on whether the decedent or spouse also had descendants from another relationship.

If there is no surviving spouse, descendants, or parents, other relatives, including siblings and grandparents, will inherit depending on the closeness of the relation.

Exceptions to Ability to Distribute Property

Not all property can be distributed according to a will. Some exceptions in the District of Columbia include the following:

Property owned in joint tenancy with right of survivorship
Homestead allowance of $15,000 for surviving spouse or minor or dependent child if no surviving spouse
Exempt property of up to $10,000 for surviving spouse or children if no surviving spouse, including household furniture, automobiles, furnishings, appliances, and personal effects

Form a Last Will in District of Columbia

The basic requirements for a District of Columbia last will and testament include the following:

Age: The testator must be at least 18 years old.
Capacity: The testator must be of “sound and disposing mind.”
Signature: The will must be signed by the testator or by someone else in the testator’s name in his presence, by his express direction.
Witnesses: A District of Columbia will must be signed by at least two witnesses in the presence of the testator.
Writing: A District of Columbia will must be in writing, except as noted below.
Beneficiaries: A testator can leave property to anyone.

Other Recognized Wills in District of Columbia

District of Columbia recognizes nuncupative (oral) wills made by a person in actual military or naval service or a mariner at sea under certain circumstances.

Changing a District of Columbia Last Will and Testament

A District of Columbia will may be changed at any time by codicil, a type of amendment to the will, which must be executed in the same way as a will.

Revoking a District of Columbia Last Will and Testament

The revocation of a District of Columbia will can be accomplished in the following ways:

By executing a subsequent will, codicil, or other writing; or
By “burning, tearing, cancelling, or obliterating” the document, done by either the testator or by someone else with the intention of revoking it at the testator’s express direction and consent and in his presence.

Ready to take the next step to protect your family? LegalZoom can help you make a last will online in three easy steps.

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Michelle Kaminsky, Esq.

About the Author

Michelle Kaminsky, Esq.

Freelance writer and editor Michelle Kaminsky, Esq. has been working with LegalZoom since 2004. She earned a Juris Docto… Read more

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of the author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.