Making a Will in Washington

How to make a will in Washington and what can happen if you don't.

By , Attorney (University of Arkansas School of Law)

Steps to Create a Will in Washington

Here's a quick checklist for making a will in Washington:

  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.
  9. File your will with the court, if desired.

Why Should I Make a Washington Will?

A will, also called a "last will and testament," can help you protect your family and your property. You can use a will 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 Washington, if you die without a will, your property will be distributed according to state "intestacy" laws. Washington'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 Washington?

No. You can make your own will in Washington, 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 Signing a Will in Washington?

To make a will in Washington, you must be:

Your will may dispose of real and personal property, as well as property you own at the time of making it and property you acquire after making it. Washington Rev. Code § 11.12.190.

You must generally 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.

In limited circumstances, Washington recognizes nuncupative (oral) wills. This type of will is only permitted for members of the armed forces of the United States, a merchant marine of the United States, or a person disposing of $1,000 or less of personal property. For this type of will to be valid, you must:

  • make the will at the time of your last sickness
  • declare it to be your will in front of at least two witnesses
  • have your will offered to the court within six months after you make it unless it is reduced to writing, and
  • have a citation issued to your widow or widower and heirs at law that they may contest the will.

This type of will can only dispose of personal property, not real property. Washington Rev. Code § 11.12.190.

How Do I Sign My Washington Will?

To finalize your will in Washington:

It is best to have only "disinterested" witnesses sign your will. Washington law presumes that any gift made to a witness of the will was made under duress, menace, fraud, or undue influence and the witness could lose any amount of the gift that is more than what he or she would have received under the intestacy law. Washington Rev. Code § 11.12.160.

Do I Need to Have My Will Notarized?

No, in Washington, you do not need to notarize your will to make it legal.

However, Washington allows you to make your will "self-proving" and you'll need to go to a notary if you want to do that. A self-proving will speeds up probate because the court can accept the will without contacting the witnesses who signed it.

To make your will self-proving, you and your witnesses will go to the notary and sign an affidavit that proves who you are and that each of you knew you were signing the will. Washington Rev. Code § 11.20.020.

Should My Will Name an Executor?

Yes. In Washington, you can use your will to name an executor who will ensure that the provisions in your will are carried out after your death. Nolo's Quicken WillMaker 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 Washington, you may revoke or change your will at any time. You can revoke your will by:

  • burning, tearing, canceling, obliterating, or destroying all or part of your will with the intent to revoke it
  • ordering someone else to burn, tear, cancel, obliterate, or destroy your will in front of you and two other witnesses, or
  • making a new will that says it revokes the old one or that has contradictory terms to the old one. Washington Rev. Code § 11.12.040.

If you and your spouse divorce (or if a court determines that your marriage is not legal) or you terminate your domestic partnership, Washington law revokes any language in your will that leaves property to your spouse or names your spouse (or domestic partner) to be your executor. This rule does not apply if you specifically state in your will that divorce should not affect the provisions in your will. Washington Rev. Code § 11.12.051. 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?

Washington is one of a handful of states that technically allows electronic wills (e-wills). The requirements for making a valid e-will can be elaborate, and the concept is still fairly new. As a result, e-wills are still not commonplace. For more details on Washington's specific approach to e-wills, see What Is an Electronic Will?

Where Can I Find Washington's Laws About Making Wills?

You can find Washington's laws about making wills here: Revised Code of Washington Title 11 Probate and Trust Law Chapter 11.12 Wills.

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