Making changes to your Will

How do I make a change to my Will?

If you still have the mental capacity to make changes to your Will (be able to make clear decisions unaffected by a medical condition or circumstances affecting clear conscious thought processes) you can change, modify, update or completely revoke your Will at any time during your life. Modifications are generally achieved by using a Codicil or by making a new Will; revocation is achieved by the intentional destruction of a Will.

Can I use a Codicil?

A Codicil is a legal document that changes specific clauses in an existing valid Will but leaves the other clauses unchanged. It is a testamentary document which is signed and witnessed like a Will but is designed to be read in conjunction with an existing valid Will that it refers to within the Codicil. A Codicil is only suitable to be used for minor changes to a Will such as when an update of names or addresses is required or an appointment of a substitute executor.

When should I make a new Will?

Whenever there are major changes needed to an existing Will, it is preferable to make a new Will altogether. Major changes could be needed because:

  • You got married or registered a civil partnership
  • You got divorced or you dissolved a civil partnership
  • A beneficiary in your Will had a major change in their circumstances
  • You separated from your spouse
  • You have a new partner who you are not married to or in a civil partnership
  • You had children since you wrote your Will
  • You want to change the guardians that you appointed in your Will
  • Your financial circumstances are different now
  • There have been tax law changes which affect you
  • You want to add or change the beneficiaries of your Will
  • You want to give some gifts in addition to those set out in your current Will
  • Your named executor has just died and you did not appoint a substitute
  • Someone died who was named in your Will
  • You want to move abroad
  • You had a family dispute
  • You want to leave something to charity

Multiple Codicils – a good idea?

If your Will has been altered by Codicil already, it is wise to make a new Will if there have been several changes before. There is always a risk that a Codicil could become lost, and if so, the Will could be read without the amendments, which is not an outcome that would be desirable or foreseen. Evidence could be sought as to its whereabouts and validity but that would depend on someone knowing about it. A new Will also makes it easier and clearer for your executor to follow your instructions rather than having several Codicils referring to a Will.

Divorce

Divorce does not make a Will invalid but any reference to an ex-spouse in a Will shall be treated in the same way as if that ex-spouse died on the day the decree absolute was granted. Therefore, if the ex-spouse has been appointed as an executor of the Will, they would no longer be able to act and likewise, if they were named as a beneficiary in the Will, the gift would fail. It is advisable however, to get a new Will following a divorce due to all the changes involved.

Revocation of a Will

If you decide that you no longer want the valid Will that you made, you need to intentionally revoke it. You can do this anytime during your life, providing you still have mental capacity (otherwise it could be argued that you do not understand the full implications of destroying a Will). You can revoke a Will by:

  • Destroying the Will intentionally and fully (a partial destruction may lead to problems)
  • Make a new Will using words of revocation to invalidate any previous testamentary documents
  • Marriage automatically revokes a Will if it was not made in contemplation of that marriage, does not refer to the marriage within the Will and does not state in the Will that the marriage will not revoke the Will
  • Editing a Will by making it unreadable can revoke it but it is not advisable to do this, it is better to destroy the Will completely. Never attempt to alter a Will yourself in pen or pencil by writing on the document, crossing words out or blocks of text as you may unintentionally invalidate the Will. Likewise, do not try to put pins, staples, paper clips or other attachments on a Will

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