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Know the rules and importance of witnesses when writing a will

On Behalf of | Mar 5, 2024 | Estate Planning |

People in Washington State who understand the importance of having a will and take the time to write one do not want to make mistakes that could cause problems for their loved ones. However, when writing a will, it goes beyond simply deciding how property will be distributed, what the testator’s wishes are and how they will achieve their objectives.

Adhering to the law when executing the will is imperative. A common misstep relates to the witnesses to the will. Under the law, the witnesses should not derive any benefit from the will. That means that a person who stands to inherit property or benefit in other ways would be considered an “interested” witness. Knowing the law for how this could impact the will is key as it could be problematic and should be avoided.

How interested witnesses can be an obstacle

When a person executes their will, there must be two competent witnesses to the will being signed by the testator or acknowledging that the will is being signed at their request. The reason the witnesses should not be interested parties is to avoid the possibility of a conflict of interest and somehow tilting the testator’s decisions in a certain way.

Even if there is nothing untoward happening, those who are skeptical of the will, question if the testator’s intentions were carried out or are unhappy with what they are receiving could say that the interested party coerced the testator in some way. A will can be invalidated if there was intimidation, undue influence, fraud or other behaviors that seemingly impacted their decisions.

An interested witness is someone who stands to gain from the will. It will not automatically invalidate the will if an interested witness is present. This can be overcome if there are two other witnesses who are not interested in the contents of the will. If there are only two witnesses and one is interested, then there will be a rebuttable presumption that the witness was influencing the testator.

The interested witness who fails to show they did not influence the testator can still receive a portion of the testator’s estate, but it will only be that which they would have gotten if there was no will. In other words, they could be entitled to some of the property if the testator died intestate, but they will receive no more than that.

Know the intricate details of creating a valid will

As this shows, the creation of a will is not a simple matter of writing and executing it. The witnesses are also important as are other small aspects that people might not consider as they go through the process.

It is critical for people to protect their property and their loved ones while simultaneously deciding how they want their assets distributed after they are gone. With that, it is useful to know how to write a valid will and keep issues such as an interested witness from being a sticking point to the testator’s wishes being carried out. This is vital with wills and any other aspect of estate planning.