Creating a will is often the first step for people who are just beginning the estate planning process. Many wonder whether they’ll need a lawyer to create a will, especially in an age where so much legal information is readily available online.
In the state of Washington, there is no requirement that a lawyer be involved in the creation of your last will and testament. But it’s often a good idea to hire one. There are some situations when it may be in your best interest to seek the services of a professional, and a website of generic templates won’t help you with complicated issues.
Basic Requirements of a Washington State Will
Whether you get help from an attorney or not, there are a few conditions that must be met for a will to be considered valid in Washington. If these requirements aren’t met, you risk that your estate will be handled under Washington’s intestate succession laws, regardless of your final wishes. Here are some common questions you may have when making a will for the first time:
- Can my will be typed, written, or spoken?
To be fully considered by the court, your will must be either typed or in handwriting. If not, severe restrictions are imposed on the ability to gift assets to others. A spoken will (formally called a nuncupative will) generally won’t be accepted unless specific criteria are met, including two witnesses who can provide proof that they heard the testator’s statements. Even with this proof, the spoken will is restricted to personal property not to exceed $1,000. Real estate may not be transferred by a nuncupative will at all, and nuncupative wills are able to be challenged by a surviving widow or heir. A written will (preferably typed) is best in almost every circumstance.
- Can anyone be a witness to my will?
Most people know that you must sign and date your will in front of two witnesses, but there are some conditions to consider. For instance, when you choose your witnesses, it’s strongly recommended that you do not use a beneficiary as a witness, especially if you think your will could be contested. The ideal witnesses have no interest in your estate and are not related to you, as this prevents conflict-of-interest disputes later. Your witnesses do not have to have read or otherwise be aware of the contents of the will at all, so your confidentiality can be maintained.
- Does my will need to be notarized?
A frequent misconception is that you need to have your will notarized, but notary service is not legally required for a will to be valid. However, a notary can help you make your will “self-proving.” With a self-proving will, the probate court (through which all wills must be filed) won’t have to take the time to contact the witnesses and verify their identities, which can speed up the probate process for your heirs.
The witnesses should sign and date the will after you. If you’re physically unable to sign the will, someone else may do it for you, but you must specifically instruct them to do so in front of your chosen witnesses.
When to Get Legal Help With a Will
If you have many potential beneficiaries and expect that there could be a conflict over inheritances, an estate planning attorney can help you lock down the legal language you need to make sure your last wishes are followed. Disinheriting a child or a spouse can be legally tricky, too, requiring careful wording to ensure your needs are met.
For a basic estate with few assets, a sole beneficiary, and no debts, a simple will may be the way to go. You can potentially save money, provided that the will is executed correctly. However, when you have a lifetime’s worth of assets that you want to ensure are passed on to your heirs in the way that you’d like, a one-size-fits-all downloaded form likely isn’t going to provide the security you’re looking for to protect your family when you’re gone.
An experienced estate planning attorney will work with you to create the perfect plan, which may include a will, living trusts, living wills, and powers of attorney, so that you can live your life now, knowing that tomorrow is secure for the ones you love most.
When you’re ready to talk about your estate plan, the attorneys at the Law Offices of Molly B. Kenny are here to help you prepare for your family’s future. Call us by phone, or email us to arrange a private consultation in our Bellevue office.