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November 24, 2015
A Valid Will Requires Two Witness Signatures

Court of Appeals holds that two non-identical documents, each signed by a different witness, cannot be combined into a valid will under Washington law.

Washington law requires that a valid last will and testament be witnessed by two witnesses. Most of the time, that is never in doubt.  However, sometimes things don’t always go to plan.  In Estate of Burton v. Didricksen, Division Two of the Washington Court of Appeals recently held, as a matter of first impression, that a two separate non-identical documents, each signed by a different witness, cannot be combined into a valid will under Washington law.

Shortly before Ray Burton passed away, he wrote and signed a document, witnessed by a home health care nurse, purportedly leaving his entire estate to Victor White.  The day before he died, Burton then wrote a second document, witnessed by a different hospice nurse, that also purported to leave his estate to White.  After Burton’s passing, White petitioned to admit the two separate documents to probate as Burton’s will, while Burton’s relatives moved for an order declaring that Burton died intestate (without a will).  The trial court found that Burton died without a will, and White appealed.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court, noting that Washington law requires two witnesses to a single document.  Since White could not show that the nurses had signed the same document, or even identical copies of the same document, Burton had died without a will.  The Court noted that “the risk of mistake—if not fraud—would be high if [it] allowed probate of a testamentary document signed by only one witness when the second “witness” never saw that document.”

The Burton case shows that Washington trust and estate law can be complex.  If you have a question about wills, trusts, probate or estate planning, please contact one of Eisenhower Carlson’s trust and estate attorneys.


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