A last will and testament is an important step in planning the distribution of your estate (real and personal property) upon your death. Washington wills permit the testator, the person writing the will, to provide for a spouse, domestic partner, 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 Washington 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 are not legally required, without a will, state laws (called laws of intestacy) determine the distribution of an estate's assets. Because the outcome may not coincide with the decedent's (the person who passed away) wishes, it is generally advisable to create a last will and testament.
In addition to providing the opportunity to direct asset distribution, a Washington last will and testament 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, the executor can proceed to wrap up the estate, which includes collecting and protecting property, paying off debts, and then distributing assets.
Washington offers a simplified probate process for small estates through which those entitled to assets can file an affidavit to request the transfer of up to $100,000 of a decedent’s personal property without court involvement.
Intestacy: Dying without a will
Someone who dies without a will is called “intestate,” which invokes the strict laws of intestacy. In Washington in the absence of a will, a surviving spouse or state registered domestic partner inherits the entire estate unless the couple share descendants, in which case the spouse or domestic partner inherits half of the decedent’s community property and half of his or her separate property. A decedent’s parents are also entitled to one-quarter of the decedent’s separate property if there is a surviving spouse or domestic partner but no children or descendants.
If there is no surviving spouse, domestic partner, 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 Washington include the following:
- Property owned in joint tenancy with right of survivorship
- Half of decedent’s community property goes to surviving spouse or domestic partner
- Share to surviving spouse or domestic partner if entered into marriage or domestic partnership after will’s execution, if omitted from will, unless it appears from either the will or other evidence that omission was intentional
- Share to child born or adopted after will’s execution, if omitted from the will, unless it appears from either the will or other evidence that omission was intentional
Form a last will in Washington
The basic requirements for a Washington last will and testament include the following:
- Age: The testator must be at least 18 years old.
- Capacity: The testator must be of sound mind.
- Signature: The will must be signed by the testator or by someone else in the testator’s name in his presence, by his direction.
- Witnesses: Two witnesses, who should not be beneficiaries, must subscribe their names to the will or sign an affidavit while in the presence of the testator and at the testator’s direction or request.
- Writing: A Washington will must be in writing.
- Beneficiaries: A testator can leave property to anyone.
Other recognized wills in Washington
Washington recognizes nuncupative (oral) wills under certain circumstances.
Changing a Washington last will and testament
A Washington will may be changed at any time by codicil, or amendment to the will, which must be executed in the same way as a will.
Revoking a Washington last will and testament
The revocation of a Washington will can be accomplished by executing a subsequent will or by being “burnt, torn, canceled, obliterated, or destroyed” with the intent and for the purpose of revoking it, done by either the testator or by someone else at his direction in his conscious presence.
Note that in Washington, if the testator’s marriage or domestic partnership is dissolved, invalidated, or terminated after executing a will, certain provisions in favor of the ex-spouse or ex-domestic partner are revoked.
If you are ready to make a last will of your own, LegalZoom can help you get started in three easy steps. LegalZoom also offers other legal products to help you prepare for the future, such as a living will and power of attorney.