A last will and testament is a legal document instructing what should happen to your assets and property (known as your estate) at the time of your death. But it does not stop there. You can assign a guardian for children and appoint an executor for your estate, and much more. Over the course of a lifetime, however, many events create circumstances that require you to change your Will. You remarried. You had a falling out with a family member. You started a business. Your partner died. You got a divorce. You had another child.
Whatever the event is, you should change your Will to reflect the new circumstances. At Sandonato Law, our estate planning attorney in Massachusetts believes in updating Wills on a regular basis so that they reflect the current situation in your life. If you have a Will and need to make changes to it, contact us online or at 617-481-2742 to learn more. In the meantime, here's generally what you should know about changing Wills.
How Do I Change My Will in Massachusetts?
People who have a Will that no longer reflects their intentions can change it. There are two basic ways to change a will: (1) by writing a new Will; or (2) by amending a current Will with a codicil.
Creating a new Will has become the preferred way to change an estate plan. However, creating a new Will without regard to the old one makes the Will vulnerable to court challenges. The old one must be emphatically revoked. To revoke a Will, you have a few relatively simple options:
- Create a subsequent Will (in other words: a new Will), and in the new Will, you should stipulate that you revoke all previous Wills. This method also allows you to revoke a provision of the old Will while maintaining the rest of the Will. Remember, too, that all requirements of the first Will remain the same for the subsequent Will, i.e., the testator must have testamentary intent and testamentary capacity, the Will must have been created with undue influence, fraud, or duress, and the proper signatures and witnesses must comply with the law.
- Physically destroy the old Will (and all copies) by any means necessary, like burning it, shredding it, or ripping out the signature. This method does not allow you to simply tear out one or more provisions that you want to change or terminate. Destruction by physical act destroys the entire Will.
Codicils have all of the legal requirements of a regular will, meaning they must show testamentary intent and must satisfy all of the other requirements of validity in Massachusetts. Codicils are not intended to be a complete Will, and that's why this method is not preferred: it leaves the testator with two valid testamentary instruments floating around, and if one is lost, it opens the door to challenges to the Will.
What Should I Do After I Change My Will?
Like with the first Will, you should take a few steps to secure and protect the Will.
- Keep the original and all copies in a safe place, like a lockbox at home or a safe deposit box at a bank.
- Inform the executor so that they know the location of the Will.
- Keep the original Will and the copies of the Will separate.
- Copies of the Will should be marked as such. You can make a note on the copies as to the location of the original Will.
- Give a copy only to one or a few trusted people. You do not have to give anyone a copy, however, it is a good idea to leave a copy with the attorney who drafted it.
When Should I Change My Will?
Estate planning is an ongoing process. People should at least revisit the terms of their will every year, even if only to reaffirm them.
However, there are some life events that should lead people to make a change, which include:
- Marriage, remarriage
- A new child, grandchild, or stepchildren
- A serious and permanent falling out with someone who is to receive property in the will
- Receipt of a significant amount of property or money since you last wrote your will
- Relocation to a state that sees marital property as community property to one that sees it as common law property, or vice versa
Any of these events can drastically alter your final testamentary intentions or can make the current terms of your will unworkable.
Contact an Estate Planning Attorney
If you want to change or update your current last will and testament, you need to make sure that it is done right. Not properly destroying or revoking the first Will can create problems when the Will goes through probate.
At Sandonato Law, our estate attorney in Massachusetts will guide you through the process of changing your Will. Contact us either by filling out the online form or calling us directly at 617-481-2742 to schedule a Free Consultation.