Making a will in the 21st Century is simpler than ever -- you can download forms or buy will kits or will-making software. But each state has unique rules and laws regarding what makes a will valid. If the will you create isn’t valid, the court won’t accept it for probate after your death.
Washington’s laws are complicated somewhat by the fact that it’s a community property state, so if you’re married, consider talking to a lawyer first to determine exactly what property you have the right to give away in your will.
Disposition of Community Property
Community property is just about everything you and your spouse acquire after the date of your marriage. It doesn’t include gifts or inheritances made specifically to you, even if you’re married at the time you receive them. Under Washington law, you’re only allowed to bequeath half of your community property in your will. The other half belongs to your spouse. The law places no restrictions on your separate property, such as gifts, inheritances or things you owned before you got married. You can give these assets to anyone you choose.
You must be of sound mind and at least 18 years old to make a will in Washington. To be of sound mind means you’re aware that you’re making a will, you understand your relationship with those you’re giving your property to, and you know what you own to give away. You’ll need two witnesses who must watch you sign your will and then they must sign it in your presence. If you’re incapable of signing, Washington law allows someone else to do it for you. He must write on the will that he did so because you asked him and he must sign beneath this notation. Your other choice is to make a mark next to the signature he writes for you. The court will accept this as proof that you wanted him to sign for you. If your will makes gifts to one or both of your witnesses, you’ll need another witness in addition to that person. Otherwise, the witness who stands to inherit from you can only receive what she would have gotten from your estate by law if you had died without a will.
Your will doesn’t have to be notarized, but if you want to make things easier for your witnesses after your death, you can have them sign a self-proving affidavit. This document must be notarized. It confirms that they watched you sign your will. If the executor of your estate files the affidavit along with your will, your witnesses won’t have to appear in court to testify that they saw you sign the document.
Other Types of Wills
Some states accept unwitnessed, handwritten wills, called holographic wills. Washington does not recognize such wills, but oral wills, called nuncupative wills, are permitted under some narrow circumstances. You can only use this option during the time of your final illness or if you serve in the military or the Merchant Marines. You can bequeath up to $1,000 in personal property this way, but you can’t transfer real estate. Two people must hear you speak the terms of your will and they must commit your words to writing within six months and present the document to the court.
Washington Will Repositories
When you complete your will, some Washington counties allow you to place it with the court for safekeeping, although this isn’t required. You can get it back any time you like by providing the court clerk with proof of ID. If you give someone power of attorney and they want to get the will back for you, they’ll have to petition the court for permission first and get an order allowing it. Otherwise, your executor need only take a certified copy of your death certificate to the court at the time of your death to retrieve it and open the probate process.
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