Adding to an Existing Legal Will

by Beverly Bird
Sometimes it's easiest just to write a new will.

Sometimes it's easiest just to write a new will.

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Life is constantly changing, and some of the changes may affect your estate plan. Loved ones may die before you do, or you might become estranged from someone who was once very important to you. Your family circle may grow as relatives marry and have children. All these events can trigger changes to the estate plan you thought you had down pat. You can add provisions or beneficiaries to your last will and testament, but sometimes it's just as easy – and safer – to create a whole new document.

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Making a Codicil

You can add to your existing will by creating a codicil that sets forth the changes you want to make, but this isn't always as easy as it may sound. You can't just scribble your additions on a piece of paper and staple it to your will – the court probably won't uphold its provisions. You must go through all the same formalities you did when you created your will in the first place. This means lining up witnesses to watch you sign the codicil, however many are required in your state. You may also have to have it notarized, depending on the laws where you live. The codicil must be dated and clearly state that it's an amendment to your last will and testament and it must spell out the changes or additions you're making. This doesn't void the other terms of your will, but only those that the changes directly relate to. The terms in the codicil take precedence over the terms in your original will regarding the particular issue you've changed or added.

Adding a Memorandum

Depending on what you want to add to your will, you may be able to write a tangible personal property memorandum, or TPPM, and attach this to your will instead of a codicil. This might be appropriate if you've acquired additional property since you wrote your will, so the original document doesn't address it. Your beneficiaries and all the will's other terms remain the same – you just want to provide for disposition of your recently acquired asset. In some states, however, a TPPM requires many of the same formalities as writing a codicil, and it may only work if your will already includes a reference to an attached TPPM – you listed items of property this way when you initially drafted your will. You can mark up the old TPPM, indicating that you're revoking it, then attach a new one in its place – just remember to include the assets that appeared in the first TPPM, as well as your newly acquired property. Check with a local lawyer first to find out if this is an option in your state. Some jurisdictions only recognize TPPMs if they're dated and created at the same time as the will.

Making a New Will

Because the steps to creating a codicil or TPPM are often the same as those for writing a will, it may be easiest to simply revoke your old will and create a new one. This is particularly true if the additions you want to make are complex – more than just adding an item of property – or if you want to make numerous changes. Writing a new will can avoid complications after your death, such as an heir finding the original will but not the codicil. If you add many codicils over the years, this might give your executor, the court and your beneficiaries fits as they try to figure out through multiple documents exactly what you intended. If you decide to draft a new will, check with an attorney to find out the best way to revoke your old one in your state. In most jurisdictions, you can simply state in your new will that you're revoking the old one or any other prior wills, but if you want to be on the safe side and avoid any confusion after your death, you can tear up the old one – preferably in front of witnesses. You can also mark on it in your handwriting that you're revoking it. Don't forget to date your notation and make reference to the date of your new will, the one that supersedes it.

What Not to Do

Just as you probably don't want to leave a will with numerous codicils or TPPMs, it's usually not advisable to take a pen to your existing will, making changes in your handwriting or crossing out provisions you no longer want to include. The courts in some states will not honor such amendments, and worse, the entire will might be thrown out because you marked it.