Planning for Asset Distributions and Guardianship for Minor Children

One of the best things you can do for your loved ones is to have a Last Will and Testament (usually referred to as simply a “Will"). This important legal document:

  • Helps ensure that your property passes to the people you want to provide for after your passing.
  • Puts the management and distribution of those assets in the hands of someone you trust.
  • Tells the court who you want to care for your children if you pass away before they reach adulthood.

Everyone wants to provide these protections for their families and others they care about. So, it may come as a surprise that most U.S. adults don’t have Wills. Some people delay creating a Will because they believe they have plenty of time, while others don’t think they have enough assets for one or that their assets will go to the right people anyway.

The truth is that most adults should have a Will. While most of us can expect to live into our 70s or beyond, that’s not guaranteed to anyone. Virtually everyone has some property to be distributed or disposed of. The Washington State law that directs how property is disputed when there is no will is complicated and may have surprising results. In other words, your assets might not go to the people who deserve them.

Who Can Write a Will?

Generally, anyone in Washington State can execute a valid Will, as long as that person: 

  • Is at least 18 years of age, and 
  • Has the necessary mental capacity to execute legal documents

Does a Will Have to Be in a Specific Format?

In Washington State, a Will must be in writing. While a handwritten Will may be valid, in Washington State a Will written in the testator’s own hand doesn’t get any special consideration. That means that whether a Will is handwritten, typed, or computer-generated, it must be properly executed. 

Proper execution of a Washington State will requires that the testator sign the Will in the presence of two witnesses. Those witnesses must sign the Will in the presence of the testator. In addition to this attestation, Harbor Law Firm provides a declaration page, which is signed under penalty of perjury. However, a Will accompanied by a properly executed declaration page is considered “self-proving.” That means the witnesses won’t have to appear in court to testify to the validity of the Will. 

Sometimes, many years pass between the execution of a Will and the time it is submitted to probate. If witnesses have moved out of state or fallen out of touch with the family, securing their testimony may be difficult. If the witnesses weren’t known to the personal representative or family members, or have passed away, the obstacles may be more serious. The declaration page generally makes proving the validity of the Will simpler, smoother, and less expensive.

Simple mistakes in the process can invalidate a Will, and the issues may not be discovered until it’s too late.

Updating a Will

You’ll want to review your Will periodically to make sure it still reflects your wishes. In particular, you’ll want to revisit your Will if a significant life change occurs, such as:

  • Marriage or divorce
  • The birth or adoption of a child
  • The death of a beneficiary

A change in circumstances of a beneficiary may also trigger a review of your Will, too. For example, if a beneficiary becomes disabled and dependent on public benefits, a direct inheritance may do more harm than good, and you may need to explore other ways to provide for that person. 

Revoking a Will

There are two ways to change your Will in Washington State: execute a codicil, or execute a replacement Will. A codicil is a separate document amending the existing Will, which must be executed in the same way a Will would. Generally, a replacement Will is a better option. Since the legal requirements for a codicil are the same as those for a Will, it’s typically just as easy to create a new Will. And, creating a fresh Will ensures that all of the relevant information is in one place, that there is no potential for apparent conflicts between the documents, and that the provisions of the Will and codicil don’t get separated. 

You can also revoke your existing Will without replacing it. The impact of revoking a Will differs depending on whether or not there is a prior existing Will. 

A Will may be revoked by:

  • Execution of a new Will that explicitly revokes the prior Will
  • Execution of a new Will that is inconsistent with the prior Will
  • Physical destruction of the Will by the testator with the intent to revoke the Will

Work With an Experienced Wills and Estates Lawyer

When you’re planning for the future security of your family, it’s in your best interests to have knowledgeable guidance every step of the way. That guidance doesn’t have to be painful or prohibitively expensive. 

At Harbor Law Firm, we make estate planning as simple and stress-free as possible. That means: 

  • Knowledgeable guidance customized to your circumstances and your goals
  • A fully remote process that never requires you to leave home
  • Early morning, evening, and weekend hours to fit your schedule
  • An adaptable process for exchanging documents and collaborating
  • Flat-rate pricing that ensures you’ll never be surprised by a legal bill

We also offer complimentary consultations and can speak with you outside regular business hours. For more on our remote estate planning process, visit this page on our website.

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