It's not uncommon for will makers, known as "testators," to experience life changes that may necessitate an amendment to an existing will. If you wish to update your will, you must comply with your state's laws to ensure your amendment is legally valid. Although every state has its own set of unique statutes that explain how a will may be updated, certain requirements are customary.
Major Life Events
If you've experienced a major life event — for example, the birth of a child or marriage — updating your will may be advisable. If your current will was executed when you were single, but you are now married, you may include your spouse in your new will. If you don't update your will to include your spouse, the laws of your state will dictate how much of your estate she will receive. If your existing will doesn't provide for a child, and you've since become a parent, you may update your will to include your child. If you fail to do so, your state's laws will dictate your child's inheritance as well.
A codicil is a document that amends a will; it should refer to the will it's amending and be kept with the will. Codicils are generally executed only if a will needs minor changes. State laws vary, but codicils generally need to follow the same formalities wills do. For example, codicils generally require "testamentary capacity" — that is, an understanding of the effects of making a will or a codicil — and witnesses. Because codicils are meant to serve as amendments, they are generally not used to make major changes. For instance, a codicil may be used to add a new bequest of property.
If your circumstances require major changes to your existing will, it's advisable to execute a new will. For example, if you're newly married and want to include your spouse or you've decided to omit certain people who are listed as beneficiaries in your existing will, you might consider making a new will. Generally, executing a new will has the effect of revoking a prior will. However, to ensure your new will revokes your prior will, it should expressly state the intention to do so.
Separate Writing for Tangible Property
A number of states recognize a separate writing for personal property. These documents can be used to update wills; they address bequests of personal items — such as jewelry, family heirlooms, furniture and automobiles — and can be changed or amended at any time. A separate writing has legal effect, provided the testator signs it. Separate writings may not include bequests of real estate. Moreover, a separate writing should be kept with a will, or attached to a will, to prevent it from being lost or misplaced. Generally, a separate writing is referenced in a will; this ensures an executor or probate court is aware of its existence.