A will is usually a complex legal document with far-reaching ramifications. Although it is possible to write one on your own, it may be prudent to have it reviewed by an attorney to make sure it meets all of Washington’s criteria and that it achieves the results that you intend. Generally, a will arranges for the transfer of your property to your chosen beneficiaries, but it can also name a guardian for your minor children in the event of your death.
You must be 18 years of age or older to make a will in Washington, and the state’s statutes include a “legally competent” clause, defined as having an understanding of what you own, how much it is worth and who you are leaving it to.
Your will must be dated and signed by you. You must also have signatures of at least two witnesses, and they must sign the will in your presence. The person you named as executor, or the one who will oversee the details of carrying out the terms of your will, can also be a witness in Washington. However, if any of your witnesses are beneficiaries -- someone you are bequeathing property to in your will -- then you will need two additional witnesses who are not beneficiaries. It is not necessary to have your will notarized.
Washington accepts attested wills -- wills in standard printed format, correctly witnessed and signed -- as well as oral, or noncupative, wills under some circumstances. An oral will is valid if it is made on your deathbed in front of at least two witnesses, and if you are either a member of the U.S. military, a merchant marine or if your personal property is valued at less than $1,000. Handwritten, or holographic, wills are legal provided that they meet all witness requirements.
Effect of Divorce
Unless you specifically state in your will that you want your ex-spouse to inherit from you even after a divorce, Washington law normally invalidates any bequests you make to him when your divorce is final. The Washington State Bar Association advises, however, that an ex-spouse might potentially contest this if a written property settlement agreement containing the terms of your divorce does not exist between you.
If you die “intestate,” or without a will, Washington courts appoint an executor to distribute your assets according to a formula contained in the state’s statutes. Your current spouse would have first rights to your property, followed by your children and then by more distant relatives.