Articles from Pacific Northwest Law Group

Holographic Wills
Dec 31, 2015

        If you have read John Grisham’s novel, Sycamore Row, you may remember reading about a holographic will.  In his sequel to A Time to Kill, John Grisham’s main character, Jake Brigance, fights for the enforcement of a holographic (handwritten and unwitnessed) will written by a man prior to his suicide.  Brigance is asked to fight to have the holographic will enforced, despite the decedent’s children’s protest (needless to say, they were unhappy to have been left nothing in the holographic will).  While this type of story makes for an exciting novel, it is not the way that most people want their estate distributed.  It is important that you ensure that you have a current and enforceable estate plan that complies with the laws of the jurisdiction in which you live.  

        Washington does not enforce holographic wills drafted and executed in Washington State.  In Washington, wills must be executed (signed by the testator) in the presence of two or more competent witnesses to be valid.  While it is not necessary to have wills signed by a notary, it is advisable.   Wills may be handwritten or word-processed, but to ensure readability word-processing is best. 

        That said, there are limited circumstances in which holographic wills or separate writings disposing of certain property may be valid in Washington:

  1. Valid in Another Jurisdiction.  If a will was valid in the jurisdiction in which it was drafted and executed, it will be enforceable in Washington.  Some states do allow for holographic wills.  So, if a person drafted a holographic will in another jurisdiction that permits holographic wills, and then moved to Washington and died, the holographic will should be enforceable. 
  2. Separate Writing.  RCW 11.12.260 permits a separate writing disposing of tangible personal property so long as it is referenced in the properly executed will or trust.  To be enforceable this separate writing must (a) be referred to in an unrevoked will or trust; (b) be in the handwriting of the testator or grantor, or signed by the testator or grantor; and (c) adequately describe the items and the intended recipients of the property with reasonable certainty.  This separate writing may be written and signed prior to or after the execution of the will or trust that refers to it.  Some people use this option so that their will can be modified (as to certain personal property contained in the separate writing) without modifying the entirety of their estate plan.  It is important to note that the separate writing may devise tangible personal property only.  This includes items like cars, boats, airplanes, precious metals, and furniture, but does not include assets like money, bank accounts, securities, or real estate.

        If you do not want the probate of your estate to be as dramatic as a John Grisham novel, it is important that you have your estate plan drafted by an experienced attorney.  For most people in most circumstances that means having a word-processed will, attested by two witnesses, preferably at least one of whom is a notary.  If you want a well-drafted will, you will not need to practice your penmanship.  Instead, call Pacific NorthWest Law Group to assist you with drafting your estate plan. 

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