Changing a Will:
A will may be altered at any time to fit your personal needs or major life changes that you wish to incorporate to be handled at your time of death. A will can be changed, modified, updated, or completely revoked as long as the person and owner of the will is mentally competent at the time of making the change. Since there are many ways of altering a will knowing which process to take for changing a will can determine which legal measures are required to make the alterations valid. The biggest factor of determining which path to take is deciding whether the alterations are large or minor.
A codicil is an amendment to a former will that alters minor stipulations of the original will without entirely retracting the legal requirements outlined in the former document. The benefit of a codicil is that it does not require for an entirely new legal document to be drafted and refiled with the court. If a change is dramatic or there have been reoccurring changes a codicil may not be the best option; however, the following is a list of minor changes that may be altered with a codicil:
• Deleting or Adding Specific Bequest- Altering any form of monetary asset, property, or any other stipulation of your last will and testament can be accomplished through a Codicil.
• Changes of your Selection of Service for a Personal Representative
• Updating a Beneficiary’s or Personal Representatives Legal Name- Name changes may occur following the drafting of your original will and changes to reflect names in the event of a divorce or marriage may need to be made.
A codicil should not be made if there have already been multiple codicils in a relatively short period of time that may make the document overly burdensome and or confusing. If this is the case one should consider formulating a New Will and Testament.
New Last Wills:
A new last will is required for any changes to an original will that would be considered major changes. A major change would be anything that would significantly alter the original legal language of the original last will. Many individuals find that following a major life event such as a marriage, divorce, or death of a spouse that their will may need to be significantly altered to account for these types of life changes—meaning that the document will evolve over the course of time.
A New Last Will Needs To Be Made If:
• Completely removing someone as a beneficiary.
• Adding someone entirely new as a beneficiary- such as a new spouse.
• Altering distributions made to the family and beneficiaries.
• Changing distributions made for charities, organizations, foundations, etc.
Individuals frequently find that they have lost a significant interest in supporting an organization and commonly decide to remove the organization from a listed beneficiary. In order to fulfill this action a complete revision of the last will is necessary. Likewise, many individuals following a divorce may also insist on removing their ex-spouse as a listed beneficiary in which case a new will is necessary.
The legal rules for determining when a codicil is required vs. a new last will are not entirely fixed; as there aren’t any written rules on the legal matter that has been universally adopted by the court system. However, if a court believes that an alteration may require a new last will then a new last will is required before the alteration is legally binding. Multiple codicils should also be avoided especially if there are many within the course of a few years – if you start to incorporate many codicils than the may need to be consolidated back down to one legal document in a new last will. Multiple codicils add to complications and make it easier for mistakes to be made handling the estate and other distributions. Lastly, one should avoid making invalid legal changes to their last will and testament as they are generally not upheld by the court. In order for any alteration to be valid it must be notarized and witnessed by two to three individuals substantiate your alteration of the document. The final notarized and witnessed signed document will then be submitted and filed with the probate court- legalizing the document. In many instances individuals have attempted to alter their last will by hand by scratching out and signing changes on their own personal copy. Making hand written changes or even re-typed changes are not valid unless they are not appropriately processed and or legally recognized. In a few cases these complications lead to legal actions to determine how the distribution should be altered to fit the person’s last wishes, but in most cases the former will and testament will only be used as it is legally binding.
Making Legal Changes:
If you believe that changes are necessary and you are prepared to make final changes to establish either a codicil or a new last will then you should contact an attorney or estate planning attorney to determine which legal action is right for you. Since a will is a legal document, acting on your behalf, the use particular language may be necessary to adequately express your final wishes –and a legal representative can ensure that these wishes are addressed. If you believe that minor or major alterations are required to you last will then you should contact an attorney with experience in wills and estates or estate planning to assist you in making the necessary changes.