Washington Law for Legal Wills

By Joseph Nicholson

The state of Washington does not recognize unwitnessed wills, and only recognizes oral wills in very limited circumstances. It does, however, generally recognize wills that are valid under the laws of other states. An interested person can act as a witness to a Washington will, but only with certain serious consequences for that person's ability to collect under the will.


A will executed in the state of Washington must be in writing and must be signed either by the person making the will, or by someone else via his express instructions. Two witnesses to the execution must either sign their names to the will or execute a notarized affidavit. Unless the will expressly states otherwise, all portions of the will making gifts to a spouse or domestic partner are automatically revoked upon dissolution of the marriage or domestic partnership.

Interested Witnesses

An interested person--someone who is entitled to receive a gift under the terms of the will--can act as a witness to the will. Unless there are two other disinterested witnesses, however, the probate court will start from the rebuttable presumption that the interested person received her gift by duress, menace or undue influence. This means the interested person has the burden of showing she did not receive the gift by illicit means. If the interested person fails to rebut the presumption, she cannot receive more under the will than she would have if there had been no will.

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Foreign Execution

Washington will recognize any will executed in a foreign state that was valid at the time it was executed, if the testator was domiciled in that state when the will was created. It will also recognize wills that were valid in the state in which the testator was domiciled at the time of his death. Such wills are enforceable only to the degree to which they would be enforced in the state where they were legally executed.

Military Nuncupative Wills

Though Washington does not generally recognize oral wills--called nuncupative wills--its laws do make one major exception. Any member of the U.S. armed forces or person employed on a merchant marine vessel can dispose of up to $1,000 of property by oral will under certain conditions. The oral will must be witnessed by two persons who must testify to this effect within six months of the will’s formation, and the will must have been spoken under fear of death.

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