What are the Basic Components of a Last Will and Testament?

The first thing to understand about estate planning is that the Last Will and Testament is the foundation of the majority of individuals’ estate plans. More commonly known as, simply, a “Will,” it is certainly the most widely known document used in estate plans. If you are wondering where to start with your estate plan, your Will is a good place to start. This blog will explore this essential estate planning document and explain its key points.

The Basic Purpose

The primary purpose of a Last Will and Testament is to bequeath certain assets to your loved ones. Many estate planners leave inheritances for children and grandchildren. The legal term for this distribution of property is “disposition of probate assets.” Within this scope, there is a significant amount of flexibility for estate planners to leave something for their heirs. 

For example, a specific bequest would be as follows: “My granddaughter, Anna, is to receive my Cadillac CT6. I direct the Will’s executor to distribute this asset as such.” There could be more general bequests, as well, such as: “The remainder of my estate is to be split equally among my surviving children.” The estate left over is referred to as “residue.” 


Another important function of a Will is to name an executor. The person who fills this position is responsible for administering the terms of the Will. There are also debts or taxes to be paid on most estates, so the executor will take care of this and other loose ends. While the executor has a fiduciary duty (good-faith duty) to follow the terms of the Will, you should pick someone you completely trust to fill this role. Otherwise, your family might have to file a TEDRA lawsuit to get the executor to follow the Will’s instructions.

Can You Change Your Will?

Yes, you can revise or revoke your Will as long as you have capacity. To have capacity means that you are aware of your actions and their consequences with regards to making your Will. In order to revoke your Will, you can either have the original destroyed or draft a new Will that specifically revokes the previous version. If you merely intend to revise your Will, you can either revoke it or add a codicil (amendment). 

To make your Will valid in Washington, you must sign it in front of two witnesses; the two witnesses must also sign it. There is no requirement for you to notarize your Will, but you can make your Will “self-proving,” which will speed up the probate process after you pass away. You and two witnesses must sign an affidavit in front of a notary to accomplish this. 

Designating Guardians

Yet another function of a Will is to name guardians for your minor children if something were to happen to you and your spouse. You can name a successor guardian and alternate guardian if the first choice is unable to raise your children. Another item you may choose to include in your Will is designating someone to care for your minor children’s property until your children turn 18. 

There are many more estate planning documents out there, but the foundation of so many plans is the Last Will and Testament. Though there are do-it-yourself estate planning tools online, this can leave holes in your plan that can invalidate the work you did on your own (in addition to the years of hard work you did to be able to leave something for your loved ones). To have certainty, give our firm a call today at 360-893-2527 so we can get started on your future.

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McMahon Law Group

Legal issues of any type can be a frightening and overwhelming experience, and certainly something you don’t want to face alone. Attorney Jacque McMahon and the McMahon Law Group will work closely with you to ensure you not only get the best legal representation possible, but that you are well-informed throughout the process. If you are facing legal issues, please contact us to discuss your situation and get the help you need.

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