Wills: What You Need to Know

Are there different kinds of Wills?

Yes. The traditional type of Will is sometimes called a ‘self-proving Will’ or ‘testamentary Will’, and is the type of Will most people are familiar with. There are also ‘holographic Wills’, which are handwritten and not signed by witnesses, but these are not considered valid in Washington and will not hold up in court. Finally, ‘oral Wills’ are spoken testaments, but are not valid in Washington.

What does a Will do?

Creating a Will gives you sole discretion and allows you to control how your assets are distributed after you have passed away. Wills let you decide how your family heirlooms, jewelry, cars, property, and other belongings will be distributed. Furthermore, if you have a business or investments, your will can direct the smooth transition of those assets as well.

What if I die without a Will?

If you do not have a Will when you die, you will die ‘intestate’ and the State of Washington will oversee the distribution of your assets according to a set formula. Typically, the formula results in half of your estate going to your spouse and the other half going to your children. This can cause the sale of the family home or other assets, which might negatively affect your surviving spouse.

Who is in charge of my Will after I die?

When you create a Will, you will name a person to be the Personal Representative (sometimes called an ‘Executor’ in other states). Your Personal Representative is required to file your Will with the court to begin the Probate process (which is court-supervised) and distribute your assets.

Who can inherit my assets?

Anyone! You can give your assets to whoever you want – your children, other relatives, charities, friends, and so on. You have complete control.

Who should be my Personal Representative?

Spouses typically name each other as Personal Representative, but you’ll also name an alternate (the ‘back-up’) in case your spouse dies before you and you haven’t updated your Will.

Does a Will cover ALL of my assets?

Certain assets are not controlled by your Will. This includes community property, life insurance payouts, retirement accounts, and investment accounts that are designated as “transfer of death.”

What about taxes?

A properly prepared Will can minimize estate tax liability, particularly for people with large estates.

What if my children are minors when I die?

If you have minor children, a Will allows you to dictate who will care for them and how they will be cared for. Not many people realize that state authorities will step in if both parents have died and there are minor children – there is an assumption that a relative will automatically be able to take care of your children. Unfortunately, if you don’t have a Will with a guardianship provision, your children will likely be placed in foster care until a court decides who should be named guardian.

  • Riley Ellis

    What are the functions of either holographic or oral wills if they aren’t legally binding?

    • Rachel Bender

      Hi Riley! To be honest, if they aren’t legally binding, then they’re essentially non-existent since courts will only honor what is legally binding. That’s why it’s extremely important to ensure that you have a valid plan in place.

  • Charly Neel

    Should the back-up personal representative be someone you know personally, or a hired professional?

    • Rachel Bender

      Great question! The vast majority of our clients choose a family member or friend. For example, if a couple chooses their oldest daughter as the personal representative, they might list her sibling as the alternate/back-up. The best choice – whether for the primary or alternate PR – is someone you trust, who is less likely to be overwhelmed with the process. Hiring a professional is perfectly acceptable, too, of course.

  • Mabel Smith

    Where will the possessions not specified in the will go?

  • Daniella Gordon

    Do I need to meet with a lawyer when writing my will?

  • Danie Matthews

    This is great information to know!