Have you already gone through the process of completing your Estate Planning? Maybe you have your Last Will and Testament and Trust done? Great! You’re already ahead of the game!
But when did you do it? Do you know when to review your Estate Planning documents, and if necessary, make Will changes or updates? It’s recommended you do so every three to five years or each time you have a major life event like a marriage, divorce, death, birth of a child, etc.
If you’re in the have it done but need to update it camp, this article is for you! Here, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about how and when amending a Will is necessary. We’ll even discuss the most commonly asked questions that people typically have when going through the process.
If at some point you’ve taken the time (and likely spent the money) to go through the steps and complete your Estate Plan, you know that the process can be difficult, and for some, confusing or stressful. Estate Planning is an incredibly important part of safeguarding your loved ones and protecting your legacy. But it does no good if it’s outdated or incomplete due to changes in life that aren’t reflected in your plan.
Many people wonder if amending a Will without a lawyer is possible, and the answer is absolutely! There are three ways to handle major life events that require updates to your Estate Plans:
Create a codicil (which is simply changing a Will). Think of this like a quick, easy update or small change to your Will. It’s simple to do, and an effective way to ensure your Estate Plan remains up-to-date as things change in your life. A good example of an appropriate time to change your Will would be when a beneficiary gets married and you want to update his or her name. Another time this would suffice is if you want to change the person you named Executor.
Amending a Will is easy. Just formally write down any specific updates, whether that means changing something existing or taking something out, sign it, and have witnesses also sign. Be sure to keep the newly written and signed portion of your Will together with the original – upon your passing, the two will be read as one document.
*Note: Be sure you understand your state’s laws about amending a legal document like a Will. In some instances, you could inadvertently completely invalidate your Will if you update it the wrong way. You may want to have a notary verify and stamp the additional document.
Write a new Will. Of course you can always go the route of writing a new Will entirely. Sometimes, this is the easiest option if you have significant or substantial changes that need to be made. By revoking an old Will and replacing it with a new one, you can eliminate any potential confusion or anyone contesting the add-on.
Writing a new Will might be the best way to go if you’re changing anything big, like changing a beneficiary. Again, state law will dictate the best way to proceed with writing a new Will, but you don’t necessarily need an attorney to do so. Online companies like Trust & Will, who have Estate Plans designed by attorneys, make the process simple, effective and reliable.
Make a personal property memorandum. If your original Will has what’s known as a personal property memorandum, you might be able to just replace it. If this is the case, you would, much like a codicil, have a separate document that accompanies your existing Will. Note that while a personal property memorandum replacement doesn’t necessarily need to be witnessed or bear signatures, it must be referenced in your Will with a statement along the lines of “I leave all personal property to [beneficiary name(s)] per the memorandum that is attached to my Will.” If your original Will has a statement such as this, and you have a memorandum attached, you can generally just create a new one to update your Will.
You may have used a personal property memorandum if you are leaving certain gifts to individual beneficiaries. Think: gifting a specific painting to a niece, or leaving season tickets to a child.
When to Change a Will
Just knowing that changing a Will is fairly easy should put your mind at ease. But how do you know when to change it? Essentially, the “right” answer is this: your Will should be updated whenever you feel it’s necessary to do so. As we noted earlier, a good rule of thumb is you should at least review your Estate Plans every three to five years, but there’s definitely no need to wait that long should you have any major life events that warrant updates sooner. That said, there are a handful of specific times that really would dictate taking the time to review and update not just your Will, but all of your Estate Planning documents.
These major life events could include:
Marital changes: Marital status is one of the most obvious and common reasons for amending a Will. If you’re recently married or divorced, it’s time to revisit how your Will is written, and most likely, update it. You should know if you live in a community property or common law state as well.
New additions: Any new additions to the family, such as the births of children or grandchildren, would warrant an update to your Will. One note to keep in mind, unlike biological children, stepchildren do not inherit automatically. If you remarry and have a blended family and would like to include your new stepchildren in your Will, you’ll need to make changes to your existing Will.
Familial changes: If a named beneficiary passes away, you should revise your Will to either name a new beneficiary or to redistribute inheritances amongst remaining beneficiaries. Likewise, if your named Executor dies, you’ll need to choose another one to take his or her place. Other changes that would be important could include selling or buying real estate, or the purchase or sale of jewelry or art.
Before a trip: Planning a long or extensive trip, whether it be for business or for pleasure, would be a good reason to review your Will and update it if needed.
Amending a Will – Commonly Asked Questions
It’s normal to feel a little anxiety about the prospect of having to change your Will. But most people find that, armed with the right information, they feel confident and ready to tackle the task. We’d even venture to bet that once you’re done, you’ll wonder why you waited so long to do it in the first place!
Read some of these commonly asked questions about how to change a Will, and if you’re still unsure about anything after that, reach out. We can answer any questions you may have about the process.
How Much Does it Cost to Amend a Will?
The cost associated with changing a Will can vary based on a number of factors. Did you plan to use a lawyer or do you prefer DIY? How complex are the changes? What state do you live in? These types of questions must be answered in order to accurately estimate the cost of amending a Will.
Lawyers can charge a wide range of fees, but it’s pretty common for the cost to be anywhere between $100 – $500. Of course, it is possible to make changes completely on your own, but many people are nervous about doing so and find they have a nagging fear that they may not have done everything they should have so their new Will is valid. Note that Here at Trust & Will, you can be confident in the fact that attorneys and Estate Planning experts prepare our documents, and we only charge members $12 per year to make unlimited updates and changes to Wills!
Can I Make Handwritten Changes to a Will?
Technically, yes, you can make handwritten changes to your Will. But different states have different laws about how and when this is acceptable, so you want to be very careful about doing so. It can be very easy for family members to challenge handwritten changes in Wills, so ideally, if you want your Will and any updates to be as solid as possible, handwritten changes are not advisable.
How to Change the Executor of a Will?
Changing the Executor of a Will is relatively simple. You can do so by creating a codicil, which is a written amendment that makes changes to your Will. Be sure you understand your specific state laws so your codicil is valid. The number of witnesses and whether or not you need a notary can be different depending on your state.
How Do You Make a Will Null and Void?
To make a Will null and void, you can do a few different things. Technically, making a new Will or adding a codicil will make your original version null and void. Of course, you could also take extreme measures like destroying all original copies, or selling, giving away or otherwise letting go of assets that are named in the Will.
What Are the Next Steps After Updating Your Will?
Once your will is updated, you still have to make sure you have the proper signatures and witnesses to satisfy your state laws. You may need to get your Will notarized, and you want to store it somewhere safe. Be sure to let someone trusted know where your Will and other Estate Planning documents are located.
It’s a good idea to review all of your Estate Planning documents from time to time. Knowing what you need to do to update your Will (and when to do it) is important. Whether you just had one major life event, or if you haven’t revisited your Will in many years and a number of things have changed, keeping your Will up-to-date is an essential part of protecting your family after you’re gone.
Now you’re ready to go through the steps and make sure your Will is as effective as possible when the time comes it’s needed. Things change in life, but changing a Will doesn’t have to be hard, time-consuming or costly!