Life is a journey, and during the course of that journey circumstances can change dramatically in a short period of time. As a result, a will you prepare today may not accurately reflect your wishes five, ten, or fifty years down the road. This means that, although you want to leave real property to a particular beneficiary now, you may want to leave it to another later. Fortunately, the law recognizes the need to update your will periodically and provides fairly straightforward means of doing so. Below is a brief explanation of how to change your will, but you should speak with an estate planning lawyer in your area to ensure that you comply with your state’s law.
Your first option is to create a codicil and attach it to your existing will. Codicils were traditionally used whenever a testator (i.e. the person making the will) wanted to make small updates to a will while leaving the underlying substance of it unchanged. Examples of typical situations requiring an amendment to your will included getting married, having an additional child, and adding or removing a beneficiary. Using a codicil was desirable because it avoided the need to rewrite the entire will just to make small changes, like adding or removing a single name, back when doing so was costly and time consuming.
Today, however, codicils are falling out of favor because most wills are created electronically and can be updated and reprinted in minutes. Since most states require a codicil to be subject to the same legal formalities as the will itself, such as being signed in the presence of two witnesses, it really doesn’t take much more time or effort to just print out and sign a whole new will. Moreover, because a codicil is a separate document attached to your will, it is susceptible to interpretations you did not intend, and is also at risk of being lost or separated from your will entirely by the time you pass. In light of this, these days it is generally recommended to simply execute a new will.
Preparing a New Will
Simply writing a new will to reflect your new wishes is now just as easy writing a codicil, and doing so reduces the risk of your intentions being misinterpreted. In addition, any major, substantive changes to your wishes should always be communicated by executing a new will, never in a codicil.
Your new will is subject to the same formalities as your original will, which means that you must sign the new will in the presence of two witnesses. The exact requirements for validly executing a will vary a bit by state, so be sure to contact an estate planning attorney in your area to be certain you’re doing it right. After your new will is signed, you must make sure the previous version is properly revoked. This is typically accomplished by language in the new will expressly communicating your intention to revoke any previous wills. It is also a good idea to literally destroy the old will (and any copies of it) in the presence of witnesses so that your intention to invalidate this old will is made perfectly clear and can be verified.