How Long Does a Will Last?

By Bryan Driscoll, J.D.

How Long Does a Will Last?

By Bryan Driscoll, J.D.

A will lasts forever unless the testator revokes it or other conditions are met. Immediately after someone creates it, the language takes effect in that, if you die the next day, your personal representative ensures that your wishes are carried out. It is common for circumstances to change throughout your lifetime, and when they do, you can simply change the existing will without having to create a new one.

Businessman using a pen to point to a last will and testament

But if you want to revoke it entirely, you may do so by creating a new document or taking action that invalidates your previous one. There are other reasons why it may not last forever. While some of these reasons vary depending on which state you live in, there are some that exist across state lines.

Invalidated by Statute

State statutes vary, but most require the testator to sign their will. If you haven't done so, and you live in a state that requires this, then your document is considered invalid. It could also be invalidated if you didn't have the required witnesses sign it. In addition, some states require a notary. Making sure you follow your state's guidelines for execution is a simple step to ensuring your that it remains valid.

It is also possible for the state to invalidate your will if an heir has died. If you leave everything to your spouse but your spouse dies before you, the document may not be valid when you die. When drafting your will, make sure it includes a provision for what to do if your spouse dies before you. Doing so ensures that your document is valid if your spouse or any other heir dies first.

Revoked by You

When your life circumstances change, make sure you update your estate planning documents accordingly. In addition, as the testator, you always have the option to revoke a will you've created. You can do this in different ways.

An individual can only have one will. So when you create a new one, all other previous documents you have created are automatically revoked if you include the right language. When creating a new document, make sure there is language in it stating that you revoke all other previous wills.

In some states, you can also destroy it. If you literally rip the document up, that is considered a full revocation. Keep in mind, this leaves you without a will until you create a new one. It's also possible that no one is aware that you have destroyed your document. It's best to let someone know when you revoke a previous will without creating a new one.

It's important to understand that your estate planning document, once correctly drafted and executed, lasts forever. If you need to change it, you can do that by visiting an experienced estate planning attorney who can create a codicil to modify your existing document. But you always have the option of creating an entirely new one. No matter which path you choose, make sure you keep in mind that your will lasts until you die, you take steps to revoke it, or the state invalidates the documentation. That's why it's so important to make sure it is drafted and executed correctly from the start.

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.