Changing a Will After Signing: How to Achieve Flexibility in Estate Planning
Creating a will allows for controlling what happens to our belongings after we pass away. Some people believe that once a will is signed, it cannot be changed. However, that’s not true. In fact, it is possible to change a will after signing, but you need to follow specific legal procedures.
This blog article will walk you through the different aspects of changing a will and address some of the most common questions to help you understand the process better.
What Is a Codicil to a Will?
The process of amending a will after signing typically involves a document called a codicil. A codicil is a legal instrument that extends a will where you can make a few updates without changing the entire document. Some examples of situations where a codicil may be necessary are acquiring new property, getting married or divorced, or having a new baby. However, it’s essential to note that making significant changes may require you to write an entirely new will.
When making changes to your will, you need to ensure that you comply with the following formalities:
- Ensure the presence of adult witnesses of sound mind, and not beneficiaries of the will, when signing the codicil
- Avoid undue influence — make sure that all changes are voluntary and not made under coercion, deception, or threats
- Seek legal advice if someone pressures you to make changes to your initial will
- Consider how changes impact the overall coherence of the will, avoiding contradictions or conflicts with existing clauses
- Consult an estate-planning attorney if unsure about the impact of changes on the will’s coherence.
How to Make Changes to Your Will: 7 Most Popular Questions
In this chapter, we’ll address the seven most frequently asked questions that cover different aspects of changing a will to provide you with information to navigate the process confidently.
1. Do you need a lawyer to make a will?
While it’s not legally required, consulting an estate planning attorney is highly recommended when making a will. An attorney brings expertise and guidance to ensure your will is properly drafted and executed according to the law. To ensure validity, they navigate complex legal requirements, such as witnessing and signing protocols. Attorneys provide advice on tax implications and address unique concerns. They anticipate and address potential challenges or disputes, reducing the risk of contested wills. Involving a lawyer provides peace of mind, knowing your wishes are accurately documented and legally sound, minimizing errors or omissions that could invalidate your will.
2. Do lawyers keep original copies of wills?
It is a common practice for lawyers to keep the original copies of wills as part of their record-keeping and safekeeping responsibilities. Storing the original will in a secure location ensures its preservation and reduces the risk of loss or tampering. Keeping original copies of wills allows the lawyer to readily access the original will when needed, such as during the probate process or when requested by the executor or beneficiaries. Additionally, retaining the original will with a lawyer provides an extra layer of protection against accidental destruction or unauthorized alterations.
3. Can a power of attorney change will?
A power of attorney does not have the authority to change a will. A power of attorney is a legal document that grants an appointed person (the agent) the authority to act on behalf of another person (the principal) in specific financial and legal matters. However, altering or modifying a will is a personal and testamentary act that can only be done by the individual who created the will. Only the will creator, also known as the testator, has the legal authority to change their will by creating a new will or executing a valid amendment or codicil.
4. Can an executor change a will?
An executor does not have the power to change the contents of a will. The role of an executor is to carry out the instructions and wishes of the deceased person as outlined in their will. The executor has to administer the estate according to the terms of the will, ensuring that the assets are distributed to the designated beneficiaries. While an executor is responsible for fulfilling their duties faithfully, they do not have the authority to alter the will’s provisions. The testator themselves must make any changes to a will while they are still alive and of sound mind.
5. Does a new will override an old will?
Yes, a new will generally overrides an old will. When someone creates a new will, this document replaces any prior wills they may have executed. The legal principle of “revocation by subsequent will” holds that the most recent validly executed will is the controlling document for distributing assets and fulfilling the testator’s wishes. To ensure clarity and avoid confusion, it is important to clearly state in the new will that it revokes any previous wills. Seeking guidance from an experienced estate planning attorney ensures that your new will effectively supersedes any prior versions.
6. How much does it cost to change a will?
The cost of changing a will can vary depending on several factors. If the changes are minimal and can be made through a codicil or amendment, the cost may be relatively low, typically ranging from a few hundred to a thousand dollars, depending on the attorney’s fees. However, if significant revisions or a complete redrafting of the will are necessary, the cost may be higher. Complex changes, tax considerations, or involving an attorney for guidance can result in higher fees. It is advisable to consult with an estate planning attorney to discuss your specific situation and obtain an estimate of the costs involved.
7. How much does it cost to change executors on a will?
The cost of changing executors on a will can vary depending on various factors. If the change is straightforward and only requires a simple amendment or codicil to the existing will, the cost may be relatively low, typically ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, considering attorney fees and any associated administrative costs. However, if significant changes or a complete redrafting of the will is necessary, the cost can be higher. It is recommended to consult with an estate planning attorney to discuss your specific situation and obtain an estimate of the costs involved in changing executors on your will.
Trust & Will Reviews
Trust and will reviews are vital components of estate planning to ensure that your wishes are accurately reflected and your assets are properly protected. These reviews involve a comprehensive evaluation of your trust documents and will, assessing their relevance and effectiveness in light of any changes in your life circumstances, laws, or tax regulations. Key aspects of trust and will reviews include identifying outdated provisions, updating beneficiary designations, addressing changes in family dynamics, considering tax implications, and ensuring alignment with current estate planning goals. Regular reviews, ideally conducted with the guidance of an experienced estate planning attorney, help maintain the integrity of your estate plan and provide peace of mind for you and your loved ones.
Drawing the bottom line
Changing a will after signing is possible but comes with its fair share of challenges. If you’re considering amending your will, it’s essential to understand that doing so requires following specific legal procedures. Consulting an estate-planning attorney is crucial to ensure that you remain compliant with the requirements, avoid creating conflicts, and achieve the best possible outcome for your assets. Remember, a will is a crucial document that provides you and your loved ones with peace of mind, so endeavor to make changes appropriately.