The family’s experience in distributing your assets after your passing is affected by how well the legal document was prepared. Transferring ownership of heirlooms, property, and other assets upon death is an involved process. The Informer interviewed several attorneys to determine whether a will or a trust best fits your needs. Here 11 questions that will help you decide what is right for you.

Q: Can I write a will myself?
A: Yes. The District of Columbia requires the signature of two witness and include an attestation clause.

Q: Can a will be invalid?
A: Yes. If you hand mark through sentences of a signed will, it is invalid.

Q: Do I have to name my children or spouse as the executor of my will?
A: No. People have named attorneys, corporate executors, and friends as the executor of their wills.

Q: When can I file a will?
A: Wills cannot be filed until after death. In the District of Columbia, a will must be filed within 90 days of death.

Q: Does a will prevent the probate process?
A: No. The courts facilitate the distribution of the deceased assets, which includes creditors. The court process cannot be circumvented as you need the order from this process to access the deceased bank accounts if you are not a signer on the account.

Q: How much is probate court?
A: It depends on the type and value of your assets. In general, it is a flat percentage of what your assets are worth. Example of fee paid during the probate process: attorney fee, court fees, executor fees, and asset appraisal fees.

Q: What actions are needed if my parents pass away and owned real estate in other states?
A: You will need to do a probate in each state the deceased owned property or assets.

Q: Are there any state taxes associated with inheriting assets?
A: This is state-dependent. The District of Columbia amended its estate tax in 2020. If the estate appraises under $4 million per person, no tax is due.

Q: Does the federal government tax gifts and property transferred from one person to another?
A: There is inheritance tax applied by the federal government. You must file the estate tax with the IRS if the estate appraises for more than $11.7 million.

Q: Can my parent who has dementia sign their will?
A: No. The individual must be mentally competent to sign a will. If not, the will can be contested. This is one of a few ways that a will can be contested.

Q: Is a living will and living trust the same thing?
A: No. A living will describes your medical treatment wishes only. A living trust describes dealing of assets or financial affairs.

Q: If my will is not submitted to the courts, then what?
A: Your assets will be treated as if you never wrote a will (Interstate). In this scenario, the state law dictates how the deceased assets will be distributed. Choosing the right executor is important as it is their responsibility to file the will upon your death.

For additional information, please seek legal advice. Many firms offer free webinars, including The Collins Firm ( or PK Law (

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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