A “Last Will and Testament” is a legal document that allows you to say who should get your property when you die. Besides saying who should get your property when you die, a Will also gives you the opportunity to say who you want to be in charge of settling your estate. It also gives you the opportunity to say who you want to serve as guardians of your minor children. And, it gives you the opportunity to protect any money or property you give to minor children and/or other beneficiaries who are not good candidates to receive an inheritance outright; i.e., via the creation of testamentary trusts (see below).
In order to be valid, a Last Will and Testament must comply with Washington law. Washington law requires the testator to be over the age of 18, put the will in writing, and it must be witnessed by 2 people that are “uninterested,” meaning they receive nothing under the will.
You can change or revoke your Last Will and Testament as often as you’d like. There are two ways in which you can change your Will. First, you can prepare an amendment to your Will (called a “codicil”). With a codicil, your Last Will and Testament remains in place, but one or more of its provisions are changed by the terms of the codicil. To be valid, a codicil must be executed with the same formality as a Last Will and Testament; i.e., it must be in writing, it must be signed by you, and it must be attested by two independent witnesses.
The second way in which you can change your will is to make an entirely new one. The new Will can be identical to the original Will, except for the changes you wish to make. Because it is a Last Will and Testament, it will have to be made and executed with the same formalities as your original Will; i.e., it must be in writing, it must be signed by you, and it must be attested to by two independent witnesses. The new Will automatically revokes the prior Will as a matter of law.
If you die without a Last Will and Testament, you are said to have died “intestate.” In that case, the laws of the state in which you are domiciled at the time of your death will control the settlement of your estate and the distribution of your probate property. There are other considerations as well. For example, if you die without a Will, the state will appoint a personal representative to settle your estate. That could be anyone, including a local attorney, a professional administrator, or a family member. Moreover, the court-appointed representative will not have the authority to make many decisions without obtaining court approval beforehand. If you have minor children, the court would appoint guardians for them. There is no assurance, however, that the court will look for the same qualities in a guardian as you would have wanted. Court-appointed guardians are also entitled to compensation for their services, which can be a very expensive proposition and consume all the money that is left for your children.