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What is the process for updating or amending an existing will?

A young couple looking at their Wills at home and asking themselves "What is the process for updating or amending an existing will?"

The first Will you make is rarely the last one. There will be changes in your life and circumstances, and because of those, your current Will may no longer be fit for purpose. But how do you do it? This article looks at the process for updating or amending an existing Will.

Before we get onto that, what are the circumstances in which you’d need to change your Will? As you look through the points below, it’s worth making a few notes because they could come in handy if you’re making a Will checklist.

Changes in your circumstances that make it worthwhile revisiting your Will include when:

  • An executor has lost capacity
  • Guardians are no longer fit enough, or have divorced
  • Beneficiaries of specific gifts of money have died
  • You’re no longer in contact with a beneficiary
  • You want to remove/replace a charity
  • New family members have been born
  • You’ve sold/given away something mentioned in the Will
  • You’ve got married
  • You have a new partner
  • You’ve got divorced
  • Your financial circumstances have changed
  • Your beneficiaries’ financial circumstances have changed
  • You want to change your main beneficiaries

Minor amends with a codicil

If changes are very minor, such as a change of address, you may not need to make a new Will at all. It’s still worth taking expert advice, just to be on the safe side.

If changes are relatively simple, such as adding or removing an executor, the process for updating or amending an existing Will can be done with a codicil.

A codicil is probably what most people think of when they want to change their Will. It is a separate document that adds to, or amends, the original Will.

The same rules apply to making a codicil as to making a Will. It must be written and witnessed in the correct way to be legally valid.

A codicil should be kept with the Will but not physically attached to it. You can have more than one codicil for any given Will.

A codicil should work if there are just one or two amendments you want to make. A codicil may even be cheaper than making a new Will from scratch. But whilst it seems straightforward enough, there are pitfalls:

  • If it hasn’t been written or witnessed correctly, it will be invalid or it might revoke the original Will. If a codicil is lost (remember it can’t be attached!), the desired change won’t happen.
  • If there is more than one codicil and one is lost, the wrong changes could be made. The law may have changed (eg on inheritance tax) that a codicil can’t help.

Remember also that even if you make a codicil, the original Will still exists. So if you’ve changed a beneficiary by removing one or adding a new one, it will be all too obvious to an original beneficiary that they’ve been left out.

Claims against the estate could be made if beneficiaries dispute which is the correct codicil. For these reasons, in most circumstances the process for updating or amending an existing Will involves making an entirely new Will from scratch.

Major changes

For major changes, you should talk through your family circumstances and finances with a professional such as a will writer or solicitor. That way, you get expert, up-to-date advice and a Will that accounts for any changes in the law.

It may cost you more than a codicil but you can be assured that the new Will is going to work and you haven’t got to worry about keeping separate legal documents together without attaching them.

What is the cheapest process for updating or amending an existing Will?

Your first step should be to go back to the Will writer or solicitor who originally wrote it. They should have all your details on file, and producing a new document will be quick and easy for them.

To amend a Will they’ve previously written for you, most professionals will charge a reduced fee.

They will still have admin costs and there is time and work involved, so it won’t be free. But it should be a fraction of the full cost of making a new Will.

But what if that solicitor has gone out of business? Or perhaps you can’t track down who wrote the original Will?

At this point, you might be tempted by the idea of a codicil. But as already discussed, even a professionally produced codicil is fraught with problems. A home-made codicil is even more problematic.

So even though it’s more time-consuming and potentially costly, the best advice for peace of mind is to find a Will writer or solicitor and make a new Will.

Summary

Some changes in your life may not require a new Will at all. Others can be done with a codicil if they are simple. When it comes to the process for updating or amending an existing Will, you may have to pay the full price if you go back to the original Will writer or solicitor. In my experience, if you’re using a new professional, chances are you will have to make a completely new Will from scratch. If you feel you need to make a new Will and you live in or near Bristol in the UK, contact us using the button at the top of the page.

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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