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Spokane Estate & Probate Lawyers / Blog / Estate Planning / Are Handwritten or Oral Wills Valid in Washington?

Are Handwritten or Oral Wills Valid in Washington?


Every Washington resident should have a last will and testament. A proper will ensures that your property goes to your preferred beneficiaries and that someone you trust is placed in charge of your estate as your personal representative. While the requirements for making a valid will are not especially difficult, they must be carefully followed to avoid any potential challenges.

The basic rule in Washington is simple: A will must be in writing and signed by the testator–or someone acting under the testator’s direction–and witnessed by at least two competent witnesses in the presence of the testator and each other. (Washington law does make provisions for witnessing in the “electronic presence” of the testator as well.)

But what about handwritten or oral wills? Can a written note be considered a valid will in some circumstances? Or what about a person making a verbal disposition of their property on their deathbed? Does a will necessarily have to be in writing and witnessed to be valid?

Out-of-State Holographic Wills

A will that is made completely in the testator’s handwriting–as opposed to typed and printed–is known as a holographic will. Many U.S. states will admit a holographic will to probate even if it is not witnessed by anyone else. Washington is not one of those states.

That said, it is possible to probate an out-of-state will in Washington if it was properly executed in the state where the testator lived at the time. For example, let’s say Mark is a resident of Arizona. He decides to write a holographic will, which is not witnessed. Arizona is a state that recognizes holographic wills, so after Mark dies, the will is admitted to probate.

As it turned out, Mark also owned some real estate in Washington. Under the circumstances, a Washington probate court can admit the Arizona holographic will, even though such wills are not generally recognized under Washington law.

Oral Wills Made by Members of the Merchant Marine, Armed Forces

With respect to oral wills, which are known as nuncupative wills, Washington law does make a provision to admit such wills when they are made by a member of the armed forces or a person employed on a U.S. merchant marine vessel. However, there are a number of restrictions on nuncupative wills. They can only dispose of the testator’s wages and personal property up to $1,000–no real estate–and there must be at least two witnesses who can attest to the oral statements. The nuncupative will must also be reduced to writing and proof offered to the probate court within six months of the words spoken.

Contact a Spokane Estate Planning Lawyer

The best way to avoid any ambiguity over your will is to work with an experienced Spokane estate planning attorney who can walk you through the process of executing a document that will be recognized in Washington without question. Contact Moulton Law Offices today to schedule a consultation. We serve clients in Spokane Valley, Kennewick, and Yakima.

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