Changing or revoking a will is of just as much significance and importance as its initial creation, since both acts similarly affect the disposition of a person's property after his or her death. They must, therefore, also conform to the laws of the state and be executed with the same formalities as the original will; otherwise, the changes will not be honored.

Changing the terms of a will is generally – and most effectively – done through the implementation of a codicil, which is an amendment or change to a will, signed with the same formalities used in creating the will (the will must be in writing, with one or more "attesting" witnesses, etc.). The use of a codicil actually republishes (or restates) the original will that it amended (except for the part or parts changed by the codicil itself). Therefore, a properly executed codicil can, in point of fact, correct a deficiency in the signing of the original will.

When attempting to change their wills, many people don't seek the advice of an attorney and consequently fail to perform the action correctly. They often try to do it themselves by making marks on their original wills – such as crossing out bequests or writing in their own changes – without regarding (or even knowing) the procedures that the law requires. As a general rule, this is a very risky method of making changes to one's last will and testament. Although some states do recognize partial revocation (the simple act of crossing something out of a will), doing so creates an open invitation to contest the will in formal litigation. Furthermore, if any new provisions are added after the old ones are crossed out (such as adding a new beneficiary or a different bequest, for example), this constitutes a change of will that can only be valid by use of the same formalities that were exercised in the making of the original will.

As an example, let's look at Mr. Jones' will. In it, he bequeaths $10,000 each to Jim, Mary, and Sam. Later, he changes his mind and decides to omit Sam from his will, so he crosses Sam's name out and initials the change. In some states, this would be an acceptable form of partial revocation and function to omit Sam from the will. If after omitting Sam, however, Mr. Jones adds Becky to the will (or, if instead of omitting Sam completely he simply changes his bequest from $10,000 to, say, $1,000) simply by writing the change in the margin of the page without following the necessary legal guidelines and formalities for executing a will, the proposed changes would not be valid and would have absolutely no effect. What's more, even in those states that might accept Sam's name being crossed out as a partial revocation, the question would still remain concerning the $10,000 that was to go to him. Since Sam will no longer receive the money, it must therefore go to another entity. This would likely have the effect of changing some other part of Mr. Jones' will, which could only be accomplished by using the same formalities as the execution of the original will.

It's never a good idea to amend a will by crossing out items or replacing them with new provisions by hand. If a change to a will becomes necessary, the maker should incorporate the new provisions (or omissions) in a properly executed codicil. This will ensure that the change will have the intended legal effect, and avoid the possibility of an expensive and lengthy will contest.

blog comments powered by Disqus