Delaware Last Will and Testament Law

Wills and Estates – Last Will and Testament Law – Delaware

Note:    This summary is not intended to be an all inclusive summary of the law of wills in Delaware but does provide basic and other information. Hand written wills or wills where the testator cannot sign are not included in this discussion.

Who may make a will: Any person of the age of 18 years, or upwards, of sound and disposing mind and memory, may make a will of real and personal estate. No person under the age of 18 years shall be capable of making a will either of real or personal estate. 12 Del. C. § 201.

Requisites and execution of will: Every will, whether of personal or real estate, must be in writing and signed by the testator or by some person subscribing the testator’s name in the testator’s presence and by the testator’s express direction. Additionally, it must be attested and subscribed in testator’s presence by two or more credible witnesses. Any will not complying with the section shall be void. 12 Del. C. § 202.

Witnesses; persons competent: Any person generally competent to be a witness may act as a witness to a will. A will or any provision thereof is not invalid because the will is signed by an interested person. 12 Del. C. § 203.

Power of sale of executor or trustee; liability of purchaser:

(a) Where, by the terms of a will or trust instrument, an express power to sell real property is granted to a trustee, such trustee may sell or exchange such real property as is not specifically required to be distributed in kind to any beneficiary, and it shall not be necessary for any beneficiary of the trust to join in the instrument transferring or conveying such property.

(b) Where, by the terms of a will, an executor is expressly directed to sell real property, such executor may sell or exchange such real property and it shall not be necessary for any beneficiary of the estate to join in the instrument transferring or conveying such property.

(c) Where, by the terms of a will, an express power to sell real property is granted to an executor, such executor may sell or exchange such real property as is not specifically devised and as the executor reasonably believes, at the time of such sale or exchange, is necessary to be sold in order to pay the debts of the decedent or the expenses of administration (including estate and inheritance taxes and taxes imposed upon the income of the estate) of the estate, and it shall not be necessary for any beneficiary of the estate to join in the instrument transferring or conveying such property. In any sale of real estate authorized by this subsection (c) of this section, it shall not be necessary for the executor to obtain an Order from the Court of Chancery authorizing the sale pursuant to Chapter 27 of this title.

(d) In any sale made by an executor, administrator or other personal representative or by a trustee pursuant to this section, there shall be no liability upon the purchaser to see to the application of the purchase money, unless the will or trust expressly imposes such liability, and the purchaser shall be entitled to rely without liability therefor upon the representation by the executor in the deed of conveyance that any sale of real property is for the purposes set forth in subsection (c) of this section.

(e) No conveyance by an executor, prior to January 1, 1985, of real property not specifically devised shall be invalid or ineffective solely because 1 or more devisees of such property failed to join in the instrument of conveyance.12 Del. C. § 207.

Revocation of wills generally: A last will and testament, or any clause thereof, shall not be altered, or revoked, except by canceling by the testator, or by some person in the testator’s presence and by the testator’s express direction, or by a valid last will and testament, or by a writing signed by the testator, or by some person subscribing the testator’s name in the testator’s presence and by the testator’s express direction, and attested and subscribed in the testator’s presence by 2 or more credible witnesses; but this clause shall not preclude nor extend to an implied revocation. 12 Del. C. § 208.

Revocation by divorce; no revocation by other changes or circumstances: If after executing a will, the testator is divorced or the testator’s marriage annulled, the divorce or annulment revokes any disposition or appointment of property made by the will to the former spouse, any provision conferring a general or special power of appointment on the former spouse and any nomination of the former spouse, as executor, trustee, guardian or other fiduciary, unless the will expressly provides otherwise. If provisions are revoked solely by this section, they are revived by testator’s remarriage to the former spouse. 12 Del. C. § 209.

Testamentary additions to trusts:
(a) A will may validly devise or bequeath property to the trustee of a trust established or to be established (i) during the testator’s lifetime by the testator, by the testator and some other person or by some other person including a funded or unfunded life insurance trust, although the trustor has reserved any or all rights of ownership of the insurance contracts, or (ii) at the testator’s death by the testator’s devise to the trustee, if the trust is identified in the testator’s will and its terms are set forth in a written instrument other than a will executed before, concurrently with or after the execution of the testator’s will or in another individual’s will if that other individual has predeceased the testator, regardless of the existence, size or character of the corpus of the trust. The devise or bequest is not invalid because the trust is amendable or revocable or because the trust was amended after the execution of the will or the testator’s death.

(b) Unless the testator’s will provides otherwise, property devised or bequeathed to a trust described in subsection (a) of this section is not held under a testamentary trust of the testator, but it becomes a part of the trust to which it is devised or bequeathed and must be administered and disposed of in accordance with the provisions of the governing instrument setting forth the terms of the trust, including any amendments thereto made before or after the testator’s death.

(c) Unless the testator’s will provides otherwise, a revocation or termination of the trust before the testator’s death causes the devise or bequest to lapse. 12 Del. C. § 211.

Separate writing identifying bequest of tangible property: A will may refer to a written statement or list to dispose of items of tangible personal property not otherwise specifically disposed of by the will, other than money, evidences of indebtedness, documents of title, and securities, and property used in trade or business. To be admissible under this section as evidence of the intended disposition, the writing must either be in the handwriting of the testator or be signed by the testator and must identify the items and the legatees with reasonable certainty. The writing may be referred to as one to be in existence at the time of the testator’s death; it may be prepared before or after the execution of the will; it may be altered by the testator after its preparation; and it may be a writing which has no significance apart from its effect upon the dispositions made by the will. 12 Del. C. § 212.

Rules for construction or interpretation of will or trust: In the construction or interpretation of any will or trust, the following rules shall apply in the absence of any contrary expression of intent in such will or trust:

(1) The period of time during which an interest in trust is revocable pursuant to the uncontrolled volition of the person having such a power of revocation shall not be included in determining whether the trust is invalid under the rule against perpetuities.

(2) There shall be no presumption that a testator or trustor did or did not intend that any law apply to a will or trust which was not in effect on the date of execution of such will or trust instrument.

(3) Except where the will or trust instrument expressly provides to the contrary, the determination of a class shall be governed by the law in effect on the date the will or trust instrument becomes irrevocable. 12 Del. C. § 213.

Devolution of property; administration of decedents’ estates: Solely for the purposes of determining the rights of any person to property of a decedent, it shall be presumed that tangible personal property acquired (a) by a decedent through gift or inheritance, or (b) solely with the funds of the decedent, or (c) acquired by the decedent before marriage to the surviving spouse, is the sole property of the decedent notwithstanding that such property consists of household goods or that any such property was subject to joint possession and use by a decedent and the surviving spouse. 12 Del. C. § 214.

Self-proved will. An attested will may at the time of its execution or at any subsequent date be made self-proved, by the acknowledgment thereof by the testator and the affidavits of the witnesses, each made before an officer authorized to administer oaths under the laws of this State, and evidenced by the officer’s certificate, under official seal, attached or annexed to the will. 12 Del. C. § 1305.

Choice of law as to execution of wills. A written will signed by the testator, or by some person subscribing the testator’s name in the testator’s presence and at the testator’s express direction, is valid if executed in compliance with Delaware law, or if its execution complies with the law at the time of execution of the place where the will is executed, or of the law of the place where at the time of execution or at the time of death the testator is domiciled, has a place of abode or is a national. 12 Del. C. § 1306.


Inside Delaware Last Will and Testament Law