Changing a Will: What You Need to Know

A will is one of the most important documents most of us will ever create, involving some of the most important decisions. This is because your will is your voice when you pass away, ensuring that your assets and estate are divided precisely as you wish for them to be. To make sure your will is kept up to date both in terms of legalities and content, it is advised that you review it every five years or after any life event that may require you to make amendments.

When might you need to change your will?

You can change your will at any time, regardless of age or estate. So long as you are considered mentally competent, then you are able to make any changes you wish- and this quick and simple process can be achieved in only a matter of days if need be.

Any significant changes to your estate or family can require making amendments to your will. If someone in your will is no longer able to inherit, for instance, if they have passed away, or if there is a new beneficiary to include, then your will needs to be updated. In England and Wales, getting married revokes any previous wills the couple had in favour of the new spouse, so a new document will need to be drawn up once the marriage has taken place. 

Divorce, on the other hand, does not revoke a will but can prevent any ex-spouses receiving anything even if they are named, so after a divorce, it is not necessarily essential to change your will, but it is still advisable to review it to ensure your assets are assigned as you want them to be.

How do you change your will?

It can seem daunting when you wish to alter a legal document, especially one as important as your own will. Still, the process is simple so long as you do everything in your power to ensure this updated version supersedes the previous one. To do this, it’s best to avoid altering the original document in any way. Instead, there are two options: add a codicil, or write a new will.

A codicil is for small changes, including everything from altering a single word to several sections. This is a separate document that needs to be signed, dated and witnessed according to the standard laws required for legitimate wills. Then importantly, this additional document needs to be kept securely with the will itself. This is considerably cheaper than creating a new will, but it can make the will difficult to understand clearly if there are too many changes addressed.

If you do need to make more significant changes or even lots of smaller ones, then it would be best to write an entirely new will. If you have already created your will, then you know this isn’t a particularly lengthy or complicated process, so this is likely the best option for making changes. The most important thing is ensuring that the previous will is revoked in favour of the new one. Hence, the new will needs to begin by stating that it revokes all previous wills, and the outdated document should either be destroyed or be clearly marked as revoked on each page with initials.

What should you be wary of?

This process is simple and should only take a matter of days to complete- but there are still some issues to look out for.

Firstly, if you have a joint will then, unfortunately, you will be unable to make any changes to this without your partner present, even if they have passed away. This means the will cannot be revoked and replaced with a new one unless both partners are present. This is one of the primary drawbacks of this kind of will, and potentially the reason for their decline. If you are considering aa joint will, we recommend coming in for a consultation so we can discuss other ways that you can achieve the goals of the joint document, but with more adaptability.

It would be best if you also considered how to make your codicil or new will as watertight as possible, to ensure that your wishes are adhered to even when you are no longer there to oversee the process. Once someone has passed away, their will is held in the highest regard in terms of distributing the estate. However, it is still possible for people to contest the will if they have grounds to. This can be done either if there is doubt over the legality of the document, or if a dependant with the right to inherit is not adequately provided for. This can be avoided by careful planning and writing of the will to ensure your assets are properly divided and you have either supplied for everyone or have given an explicit reason as to why someone is to be omitted. Then, the document needs to be validated correctly by being signed and dated by yourself and two witnesses who are not beneficiaries of the will. The document needs to have been completed when you are mentally competent, and the witnesses need to be able to confirm this.

If you carefully follow these guidelines, then your will should be watertight, and all of your wishes should be followed in a smooth probate process. If you would like advice and assistance in creating or changing your will, we here at Gardner Croft are always happy to give consultations to help you ensure that this important document is precisely how you want it.