You may have previously written a will. You may have reached a juncture in your life at which you desire to change the terms of your last will and testament and wonder how you go about accomplishing this task. There exist a number of approaches you can take to changing an existing will.
Create a Codicil to Your Will
If you desire to change only certain parts of your will, and you’ve not amended it previously, creating what technically is known as a codicil can be the advisable course to take. The legal definition of codicil is:
“A codicil effectuates a change in an existing will without requiring that the will be reexecuted. The maker of the codicil identifies the will that is to be changed by the date of its execution. The codicil should state that the will is affirmed except for the changes contained therein. The same formalities that are necessary for the valid execution of a will must be observed when a codicil is executed. Failure to do so renders the codicil void.”
Simply, a codicil lets you change your will.
A key element of a creating a codicil is that it must be executed or signed in the same manner as the will, in accordance with the estate and probate law of the state where it is created. In California, a will and codicil must be signed by the person who creates the instrument (you) and two witnesses present when you sign the document. They also sign a codicil in their capacities as witnesses.
Ideally, the original version of the codicil is attached to the original will. These documents are then maintained in a safe and secure place. Your designated executor or someone else you trust needs to know where you keep your will and have access to it when you pass on.
Write a New Will
If you desire to make changes that are more substantial, another way you can change your will is to write a completely new one. Such a subsequent will includes language at the beginning of the document that notes the instrument revokes any previously executed will. The moment you execute your new will, the old one is revoked.
You may want to take an extra step and physically destroy your prior will once a new one is executed. While it legally is no longer in effect, you definitely do not want there to be any confusion about your last will and testament after you die.
Physically Destroy Your Existing Will
Speaking of physically destroying an existing will, that is a sure way of revoking the instrument. If you don’t want your existing will to be in force, but you aren’t yet sure what you want to do in the way of a new one, tear up the existing will.
Bear in mind that if you die without a replacement will, the laws of the state in which you reside will govern the manner in which your property is distributed when you pass on. This means your assets will go to certain members of your family, depending on who are close relatives to you alive at the time of your death. This may not be in accord with your wishes. Thus, if you do have ideas about what you want done with your assets, and you elect to revoke a will by physically destroying it, you will not want to unduly wait to formulate and execute a new will.
Prepare an Instrument Revoking Your Will
If you can’t put your hands on the original version of your last will and testament, you can’t physically destroy it. Moreover, because you don’t know where it is, you’ve lost physical control over the document. Thus, in order to fully protect your legal interests in regard to your wishes after death, you may want to prepare a written document revoking your last will and testament. The document needs to be signed to by and by two other people who witness you executing the instrument.
In some ways, this is something of an emergency and temporary action in a situation like that in which you don’t know where your will is located (for whatever reason). When you take this step, your property will be distributed according to California law unless you prepare a new will. For this reason, you should be as diligent as possible to get a new will executed.
Legal Assistance and Changing Your Will
If you desire to amend or create an entirely new will, there are forms available to you for these purposes. With that said, depending on your particular circumstances, you may want to seriously consider retaining the assistance of a lawyer versed in creating wills for clients. An estate attorney is California (and other states) is likely to schedule an initial consultation with you to discuss your specific needs at no cost to you.