Making a Will in D.C.

How to make a will in the District of Columbia (D.C.), and what can happen if you don't.

Updated by , Attorney · University of Arkansas School of Law

Steps to Create a Will in D.C.

Here's a quick checklist for making a will in D.C.:

  1. Decide what property to include in your will.
  2. Decide who will inherit your property.
  3. Choose an executor to handle your estate.
  4. Choose a guardian for your children.
  5. Choose someone to manage children's property.
  6. Make your will.
  7. Sign your will in front of witnesses.
  8. Store your will safely.

What Should I Make a D.C. Will?

A will, also called a "last will and testament," can help you protect your family and your property. When you make a will in D.C. you can use it to:

  • leave your property to people or organizations
  • name a personal guardian to care for your minor children
  • name a trusted person to manage property you leave to minor children, and
  • name an executor, the person who makes sure that the terms of your will are carried out.

What Happens if I Don't Have a Will?

In D.C., if you die without a will, your property will be distributed according to state "intestacy" laws. D.C.'s intestacy law gives your property to your closest relatives, beginning with your spouse and children. If you have neither a spouse nor children, your grandchildren or your parents will get your property. This list continues with increasingly distant relatives, including siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews. If the court exhausts this list to find that you have no living relatives by blood or marriage, the state will take your property.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Make a Will in D.C.?

No. You can make your own will in the District of Columbia, using Nolo's Quicken WillMaker & Trust. However, you may want to consult a lawyer in some situations. For example, if you think that your will might be contested or you have especially complicated goals, you should talk with an attorney. See Do I Need an Attorney to Make My Estate Plan?

What Are the Requirements for Making and Signing a Will in D.C.?

To make a will in D.C., you must be:

  • an individual 18 years of age or older,
  • of sound and disposing mind, and
  • capable of executing a valid deed or contract. (D.C. Code § 18-103.)

You must make your will on hard copy. That is, it must be on actual paper. It cannot be on an audio, video, or any other digital file. (Although, see "Can I Make a Digital or Electronic Will?," below.) Type and print your will using a computer, or you can use a typewriter.

D.C. does recognize nuncupative (oral) wills in very limited circumstances. This option is only available for a person in military or naval service. To make a will in the circumstance, the will-maker must make the will during the time of the last illness, two witnesses must be present, and the willmaker's statements must be put in writing within 10 days. (D.C. Code § 18-107.)

To finalize your will in the District of Columbia:

  • you must sign your will in front of two witnesses, and
  • your witnesses must sign your will in front of you. (D.C. Code § 18-103.)

It is best to only have "disinterested" witnesses who don't stand to inherit sign your will since an "interested" witness can lose any gift you leave them. (D.C. Code § 18-104.)

Do I Need to Have My Will Notarized?

No, you do not need to notarize your will to make it legal in D.C. While many states allow you make your will "self-proving," which prevents your witnesses from having to go to court and testify that they saw you sign the will, D.C. does not give you this option.

Should I Use My Will Name an Executor?

Yes. In D.C., you can use your will to name an executor who will ensure that the provisions in your will are carried out after your death. Quicken WillMaker & Trust produces a letter to your executor that generally explains what the job requires. If you don't name an executor, the probate court will appoint someone to take on the job of winding up your estate.

Can I Revoke or Change My Will?

In D.C., you may revoke or change your will at any time. You can revoke your will by:

  • burning, tearing, cancelling, or obliterating your will with the intent to revoke it, or
  • making a new will that says it revokes the old will. (D.C. Code § 18-109.)

If you and your spouse divorce, D.C. law automatically revokes your entire will. If you die without making a new will, you will die intestate (see above). If you want to give anything to your spouse, you need to expressly state this in your new will. If you have any concerns about the effects of divorce on your will, see an estate planning attorney for help.

If you need to make changes to your will, it's best to revoke it and make a new one. However, if you have only very simple changes to make, you could add an amendment to your existing will – this is called a codicil. In either case, you will need to finalize your changes with the same formalities you used to make your original will (see above).

Can I Make a Digital or Electronic Will?

In a handful of states, you can make a legal will digitally—that is, you can make the will, sign it, and have it witnessed without ever printing it out. Although such electronic wills are currently available in only a minority of states, many other states are considering making electronic wills legal. D.C. currently doesn't allow e-wills, but that may change in the future.

Where Can I Find D.C.'s Laws About Making Wills?

You can find D.C.'s laws about making wills here: Code of the District of Columbia Title 18 Wills Chapter 1 General Provisions.

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