It's perhaps understandable that some people become complacent after drafting a will, even if the will is years or even decades old. Many people assume that as long as they have some form of will in place, all of their intentions--including those that are unstated--will be honored. Unfortunately, the assumption that a court or other estate administrator can read minds can lead to family disputes and to expensive lawsuits. This section provides information on updating or revoking a will, and information about contesting one is also provided. You'll find articles and other resources on the process for amending a will, information about heirship and inheritance laws, a discussion of the risks with an outdated will, and more.
The Importance of Updating Your Will
If you have a will, then you understand the importance of having a legal document in place that provides your instructions concerning distribution of property, guardianship for your minor children, and your end-of-life care. However, if you've obtained new property, if you've decided on different and/or new heirs, or if circumstances have changed for other reasons, then it's important that you update your will. If your will is outdated or otherwise incomplete, a court or other administrator must resort to guessing at your intentions.
Common Scenarios for Amending a Will
While it's always a good idea to keep your will updated, there are some common scenarios that particularly warrant updating your will. For example, if you own property that's not mentioned in your current will, particularly property that cannot be easily divided, then you should revise your will. Also, if you want to add or remove heirs from your current will, then you should do so legally, in writing. A court has no way of knowing your intentions, and you don't want a "he said, she said" situation to develop. If you've recently remarried, and/or if you want to leave property for stepchildren, it's important to add a provision to your will. While some states have heirship laws that automatically designate a person's children as his or her heirs, these laws generally don't apply to stepchildren.
Options for Changing or Revoking a Will
There are several options available for changing or revoking an existing will. The simplest method is to create a new will with a paragraph stating, in clear language, that any previous versions are void and have no legal effect. Note that while courts generally look to the most recent version if a person has several wills, to avoid confusion, it's best to make clear that your most recent will is the one that's legally binding.
Challenging a Will
A will can be challenged if there's a suspicion that the decedent was either manipulated or coerced into signing it, or if the will's signature looks forged or otherwise suspect. If there are multiple versions of a will, there can be a challenge concerning which version is the legally valid one.
How a Lawyer Can Help
An attorney can answer your questions about changing or revoking your will. He or she can also help you to update your will to make sure it suits your estate and reflects your current needs. This section contains a link for consulting with an experienced estate planning attorney in your area.