How to Amend a Last Will and Testament

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

How to Amend a Last Will and Testament

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

When you create a last will and testament, you are doing more than simply documenting your wishes for how your estate will be managed and distributed when you die; you are also giving an important gift to your loved ones. Your will should accurately reflect your wishes for who should manage the process of winding down your estate and how your assets should be distributed after your death.

Man sitting in front of laptop at desk

Sometimes, life events or simply changed circumstances can mean the information in your will no longer reflects your wishes. In that case, you can amend your will by creating a codicil. In some cases, it may make more sense to revoke the old will entirely and create a new will.

Step 1. Evaluate using a codicil vs. creating a new will.

A codicil is an amendment to a will. When you create a codicil, you keep your existing will and simply add additional pages to it as needed to update specific paragraphs or articles.

It may make sense to create a codicil to change the person named as your personal representative (or executor), to change your named beneficiaries, to update guardianship or testamentary trust provisions, or to identify a new child.

Sometimes, it may make sense to start from scratch by creating a new will to completely replace the old will. This can be the best course of action if you are making multiple updates to your will or if your existing will is decades old and you want to make sure it includes current legal language for your state.

Step 2. Consider options for amending your will.

Whether you want to create a codicil or write a new will, you may be able to make the changes yourself. You could also choose to use a reputable online service provider to update your will.

You may want to consider working with an estate planning attorney licensed to practice law in your state to ensure your codicil or new will is structured to accomplish what you intend.

Step 3. Follow your state's legal formalities for codicils and wills.

State-specific laws govern wills. Whether you are creating a codicil or a new will, you should make sure that you are following those requirements.

Generally speaking, codicils need the same formalities as wills. This often means two competent adults who are not named in the document must witness your signature. Some states require additional formalities such as notarization of your signature and the witnesses' signatures.

Step 4. Take appropriate actions after executing your new document.

If you created a new will, you can destroy the old will and any codicils to it after the new will has been finalized according to your state's laws. If you created a codicil, do not destroy the original will. Instead, you should attach the codicil to that original document and attach copies to any copies of the original will. If you previously provided copies to family members or others, you may wish to notify them that you have made changes to your estate plan.

Whenever you update your estate planning documents, remember to keep the originals in a safe place. Your personal representative should either have a copy of the original will and any codicils to it or the new will. Alternatively, your personal representative should know where to find your estate planning documents if they are needed.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.