As life circumstances change (births, marriages, divorces, and deaths), it may become necessary to make changes to your will. If an estate plan is not kept up to date, it can become useless, or distribute to those who are no longer your intended beneficiaries. The best way to make changes is either through a codicil – an amendment to the will – or by creating a new will.
While it may be tempting to just take out a pen and make changes by hand, this is not recommended. Changes will not be effective unless you use the same formalities as you did when drafting the will. And depending on state law, changes made by hand on the will may void the will altogether. If you sign your name to handwritten changes and have the changes witnessed, it is possible a court will find that the changes are valid, but there is no guarantee and there are likely to be delays with the court while your final wishes are sorted out. The court will probably require the witness to come forward and testify to the validity of your signature, and if the witnesses cannot be found, the “simple” way in which you hoped to change your will causes additional fees and legal expenses.
If you have small changes to make to your will (e.g., changing your executor or updating a name that has changed), a codicil may be appropriate. The benefit of a codicil is that it is usually cheaper than redoing the entire will. The same rules for wills apply to codicils, which means the codicil should be dated, signed, and witnessed. Always keep a codicil with the will so your personal representative can find it easily.
If you have significant changes to make to your will (e.g., adding a spouse or removing a beneficiary) or have more than one change, it is generally better to update your will rather than write one or more codicils. The updated will should include a date and a clear statement that all other previous wills and codicils are revoked.
Before you make any changes to your will, you should consult with your attorney.