There are several situations where revoking a will may be feasible. For instance, life changes – such as marriage, divorce, and a new baby – may change how you wish to dispose of your property upon death. While the reasons for changing a will may vary, it is important to know how to reflect your current intentions in your will. Failure to properly revoke or change a will can result in confusion and costly litigation.
In most states, revoking a will is pretty straightforward. Generally, you can revoke a will by (1) destroying the old will, (2) creating a new will or (3) making changes to an existing will. In some circumstances, simply giving away all or your property and assets before you die can have the effect of revoking a will (subject to estate tax penalties).
Destroy the Old Will
A common way to revoke a will is to utterly destroy it. You can burn it, tear it, or shred it to pieces, so long as you intend to destroy the will. This applies to whether you actually destroy it, or whether someone else destroys it, at your request, and in your presence.
Again, state statutes will define how a will may be revoked. Some states allow revocation by destruction when the testator “tears, cancels, obliterates, or destroys the will with the intention of revoking it.” This often does not include handwritten marks in the margins of a will, or where, for example, a testator draws an “X” through some of the pages of a will. Thus, a court may treat an improperly destroyed will as if the will had not been changed.
You may consider destroying an old will entirely regardless of any other method of revocation involved. Multiple wills often result in confusion and the total destruction of a prior will can help prevent debates about which document accurately reflects your wishes.
Make a New Will
Perhaps one of the easiest ways you can revoke a will by simply creating a new will. The new will should be properly executed and reflect language that states your desire to revoke all prior wills, such as “I hereby revoke any and all old Wills that I have previously made.”
Make Changes to an Existing Will
A testator can revoke a will by making changes to parts of an existing will. The newly-amended will, now called a “codicil”, has the effect of creating a new will because it can change key aspects of an existing will, including new beneficiaries and property designations.
Get a Free Initial Legal Assessment
The improper revocation or modification of a will can have disastrous results, resulting in confusion, litigation, and raising the possibility that your wishes will not be understood after your death. A lawyer can advise you on the proper ways to revoke a will, and make sure your intentions are clear so as to avoid any confusion that may result from a failed revocation attempt. Contact a local attorney for a free initial legal assessment to learn how they can help guide you through estate planning with confidence.