Do Wills Expire?

by Carrie Ferland
    A valid will does not expire unless the testator takes certain steps.

    A valid will does not expire unless the testator takes certain steps.

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    Wills are perpetual by nature, which means once the testator proofs and validates his will, it will never terminate. In this regard, a will can never actually “expire,” and there is no restriction that limits the time during which a will is still valid. However, there are certain ways a testator can terminate the validity of his will during his lifetime, and additional restrictions on the time during which the executor of the will can initiate probate.

    Revised Wills

    Once a testator executes a valid will, she has the authority to revise the will at any time. Testators often revise their wills upon a major life-changing event, such as a marriage, divorce, the birth or adoption of a new child, or a death in the family. While a testator can simply amend her will using a codicil, which is attached to the end of an original will, many people will draft an entirely new will to ensure the changes override the original instructions in the will. Once a testator executes the new will, the old will is revoked and considered void for all intents and purposes by the probate court.

    Revoked Wills

    A testator also has the power to terminate his will during his lifetime by revoking it. To revoke his will, a testator can either destroy the original document and any copies thereof or draft a new document, dated subsequent to the original will, stating he revokes the will and voids it from that day forward. No one other than the testator, including the administrator or anyone with powers of attorney over the testator, has the authority to revoke the will on a testator’s behalf.

    Transitory Wills

    Although exceedingly rare, the final way a will can expire is when the will is defined a transitory. To establish a transitory will, the testator can define an expiration within the will, effectively voiding the will at a specific time. Transitory wills contain a condition that if the will is not probated by a certain date or before a certain event, the will becomes invalid and the beneficiaries lose their right to claim their inheritance. Once the date or event passes, the terms of the will are void and cannot be rectified.

    Probated Wills

    While a will itself cannot expire without the testator's action, many states do limit the time during which a will can be filed for probate. This is called a statute of limitations, and it can affect the inheritance of the testator’s beneficiaries if the will is not filed before it elapses. For example, if the will bequeaths a piece of real property to a beneficiary, but the will was never probated, the beneficiary could lose her rights to claim the property, barring her from living in, renting or selling it to anyone else. Beneficiaries can avoid this by filing a copy of the will with the probate court themselves if the executor refuses to do so, or petitioning the court to appoint a new administrator if the executor possesses the only copy of the will.

    References & Resources

    • "Wills, Trusts & Estate Planning"; Richard Saul Wurman, et al.; 2001
    • "Wills, Trusts & Estates"; Gloria A. Aluise; 2006

    About the Author

    Carrie Ferland is a practicing civil litigation defense attorney in the Philadelphia Area. As an author, her work has been featured in various legal publications for over 10 years. Ferland is a 2000 graduate of Pennsylvania State University and completed her Juris Doctorate and Master of Business Administration with the Dickinson School of Law. She is currently pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in English.

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