After a person has created their first estate plan, circumstances may change. They may have more children, acquire more assets, or divorce a spouse. These changes may result in the need to review and consider making changes to a will if an estate plan has previously been established.

The Importance of Updating and Making Changes to a Will

If someone fails to change or rewrite their will to account for changes in their life, their estate may end up not being distributed  as they had  initially intended.  For example, if someone had a new child and did not explicitly state that they did not want the new child to inherit anything, then the law may give that child a share of their estate.

A person who creates a will can always change it, add to it or revoke it any time prior to their death as long as they are physically and mentally competent to make the change. An amendment to a will is called a codicil. A codicil is a formal amendment that is attached to, and becomes a part of, the original will.

It is important to understand that provisions in an old will cannot merely be crossed out and modified in writing. A legal document needs to be created which clearly defines the changes which are being made to the original will and what the new provisions are. The codicil needs to be formally executed under the same statutory requirements as when the original will was executed. The codicil must be kept with the will. If there are many changes or major changes, it is sometimes easier to write a new will.

Sometimes a decedent gifts an item which, at the time of the decedent’s death, is no longer in his or her possession. In that situation, the gift would fail completely unless an alternate provision had been made to account that circumstance such as, “If I no longer own my _, the beneficiary may have _.”  It is also important to make alternate provisions for the property should any beneficiary die before you.

A separate, handwritten document may be incorporated into a will that identifies the distribution of miscellaneous personal property gifts. The Will’s language may refer to this distribution list, and this list is then regarded as a part of the Will. This distribution list is dated and identifies specific items of tangible personal property (e.g., jewelry, artwork, furniture) and the people the property is gifted to.

To revise a personal property distribution list, a person may write “revoked” across each page of the old property distribution list and must sign and date each page. The new list must be attached to the Will, and the Will must be stored in a secure place where it can easily be found after death. If the list has been incorporated into the will by reference, many states require the will be amended to incorporate the new list.

Sometimes instead of making changes to a will through multiple codicils, it may be clearer to rewrite a new will from scratch.  A new will can be executed which specifically states that all earlier wills are revoked.

What is the Residuary Estate?

In some cases, assets that are not specifically accounted for are bundled into what’s called the “residuary estate.” Most wills contain a residuary clause that denotes who will receive all remaining, unspecified property of the estate. If the testator acquires a major asset after executing his will but dies before specifically designating a person to whom that property goes, the property will automatically be distributed according to the terms of the residuary clause. It is very important to review a Will’s residuary clause periodically and/or after acquiring new assets to make sure that the will distributes the property according to the intent of the testator/will-maker.

 When to Update an Estate Plan

Occasionally it is necessary to revise an estate plan. Some life changes which call for a review include:

  • Marriage or divorce
  • The death of relatives or will beneficiaries
  • Additional children or grandchildren
  • A move to a different state
  • Sale of major assets
  • Acquisition of major assets
  • Change in financial circumstances
  • Change in state law.

Low-Cost Options For Making Changes to a Will, Revoking or Creating a New Will

If you are considering making changes to a will and want to avoid the high cost of attorney’s fees, contact A People’s Choice for low-cost legal document help. Although we cannot give legal advice, A People’s Choice can help you in preparing all the required legal documents to help you update your will without having to hire a lawyer.

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If you need more information about making changes to a  will or other estate planning matters, please do not hesitate to call our office. A People’s Choice has been providing self-help legal document services for over 35 years and has established an excellent reputation in the community.  When you are ready to start your paperwork, information can be provided to us through our convenient online system, over the phone, or in person.

A People’s Choice provides estate planning document preparation services for people residing in California and nationwide.