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Is it possible to change the beneficiaries named in my Will?

Happy family looking down into the camera, representing a person asking, "Is it possible to change the beneficiaries named in my will?"

The beneficiaries are the people you choose to benefit from your Will. Since you’ll probably review your Will every few years, at some stage you’ll ask yourself, “Is it possible to change the beneficiaries named in my Will?” (Beneficiaries are just one factor to consider when you’re making a Will checklist.)

If you want to change the beneficiaries of your Will, there are two ways of doing it. They are:

  1. Make a codicil
  2. Make a new Will

Let’s look at the two options in turn.

1. Make a codicil

You can think of a codicil as a document that amends your existing Wil. It’s a piece of paper that contains all the changes you want to make to your Will. You would then store it with your Will.

You can use a codicil to change your beneficiaries by:

  • Adding new beneficiaries
  • Removing existing beneficiaries
  • Adding a new gift to a beneficiary
  • Removing a gift to a beneficiary
  • Changing the amount of money in a gift.

It’s especially important to make a change if you’re going through a divorce but the divorce hasn’t been finalised. As things stand, your spouse would still inherit from your Will until the divorce goes through. So if you want to avoid that, you’ll need to remove your spouse as a beneficiary.

You can also use a codicil to change the executors of your Will or change the guardians of children under the age of 18.

While this might seem like a very easy way of making a change, there are a few major drawbacks:

  • It has to be written in the correct way. If not, a court may have to resolve any ambiguities.
  • It must be signed and witnessed like a Will or else it would be invalid.
  • It could be overlooked if it is not kept securely and in the same place as the Will.

2. Make a new Will

This is indeed the approach taken by many Will Writers and solicitors working today. The idea of a codicil dates back centuries, to a time when Wills were written out by hand in pen and ink.

Back then, it was far easier to write a single new page than to copy out multiple pages of a document.

But then computers entered the workplace and data could be stored digitally. Making a small change to a Will now involves editing a digital document.

Of course, printing a Will still requires more printed pages than a codicil. But the cost of paper is not the main factor that determines the price.

Cost of a codicil

If you go back to the Will writer or solicitor who wrote your original Will, they will have all your details stored electronically. It would not cost them much to produce an entirely new Will. Given all the problems that can arise with codicils, it is preferable to make a new Will instead of a codicil. Hopefully, they would not charge you the full cost of making a new Will to do this.

But perhaps the person who wrote your Will retired or went out of business. In which case, you’ll need to find a new Will writer or solicitor to make the changes. If so, then that person has to start from scratch.

When you meet a Will writer or solicitor for the first time, they have to spend time getting to understand your family circumstances and your assets. Consequently, they would have to charge the same price for making a codicil as a brand new Will.

There is a third option, but this only applies if your original Will was particular type of Will called a discretionary Trust Will.

If so, your Will document would contain a list of all potential beneficiaries (this is written in the Will as “discretionary beneficiaries”). This may include, for example, your child’s name followed by “and their issue” or “and their descendants”.

So if you wanted to add a gift to a grandchild, for example, they may already be included even if they weren’t born when you made the Will. If so, then all you would need to do is change the Letter of Wishes that accompanies the Will. A Letter of Wishes does need to be signed but does not need to be witnessed.

If you think you have a discretionary trust Will, you should ask the Will writer or solicitor who originally wrote it to advise you on this.

Summary

The answer to “Is it possible to change the beneficiaries named in my Will?” is yes. You can do it with a codicil or by making a new Will. However, the cost of making a codicil may well be similar, or the same, as making a brand new Will. A codicil, provided it’s written and signed and witnessed correctly, will work for small changes. These include appointing a new executor. However, in my experience, I believe there are too many drawbacks of codicils. Having a completely new Will, rather than separate documents, is highly recommended. If you wish to change your Will and you live in or near Bristol in the UK, please get in touch.

The information contained in these articles is for general interest purposes only. We take every precaution to ensure that the information is correct at the time of publishing but errors can occur. Given the changing nature of laws, rules and regulations, there may be omissions or inaccuracies in the information. Bristol Wills & Estate Planning Ltd is not responsible for any errors or omissions or for any results obtained from the use of this information. You should never rely on the information in these articles as a substitute for professional legal advice, whether from Bristol Wills & Estate Planning or any other legal service or professional.

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