Washington governs how a person -- called a testator -- may establish a will by the statutory requirements defined under the Washington Probate Code, found under Title 11 of the Revised Code of Washington. These laws define how a testator must convey, proof and execute his will for the state to acknowledge the document as valid. A testator who fails to execute his will according to these guidelines could subject his estate to state intestate succession laws.
To establish a will in the state of Washington, the testator must be 18 years of age or older and of sound mind. Before executing a will, the testator must understand the implications of establishing an estate plan and have the capacity to make decisions about how her estate will be administered and divided amongst her beneficiaries.
Washington probate law requires, with few exceptions, that testators convey their will in writing, which can be typewritten or written by hand. The testator must sign the very bottom of the document himself -- he cannot simply type his name as his signature -- and at least two disinterested witnesses must be present at the time of signing. Both witnesses must also sign the will in the presence of the testator and each other. In lieu of this, a testator can submit his will for notarization by a notary public, in which case there is no requisite for any additional witnesses.
A will written entirely by the testator’s own hand, referred to as a “holographic” will, is exempt from the witness requirement under certain circumstances. Washington law acknowledges the validity of a holographic will executed without two attesting witnesses, provided the surviving family can substantiate the handwriting and signature both belong to the testator and prove the testator intended the document as his actual and final will. Other documents or correspondence referencing the holographic will serves as proof of the testator’s intent, while other sworn or attested legal documents bearing the testator’s signature -- including the last valid driver’s license of the testator -- are sufficient to substantiate the veracity of the testator’s signature.
Washington law defines a nuncupative as any will not conveyed in writing. This includes oral, videotaped and audiotaped wills. Washington probate law does generally not recognize nuncupative wills. However, the courts acknowledge oral wills from testators employed at sea -- including merchant marines -- which are delivered verbally by the testator to at least two witnesses, who both describe the contents of the oral will, if it is delivered to the court within six months of the testator’s passing. Washington also acknowledges nuncupative wills delivered as the “dying declaration” of an ill testator to at least two witnesses, although the testator’s surviving spouse may move to void the will if it excludes her or disposes of property in which she has a joint and indivisible interest.
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Carrie Ferland is a practicing civil litigation defense attorney in the Philadelphia Area. As an author, her work has been featured in various legal publications for over 10 years. Ferland is a 2000 graduate of Pennsylvania State University and completed her Juris Doctorate and Master of Business Administration with the Dickinson School of Law. She is currently pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in English.