Do Wills Expire?

By Carrie Ferland

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.

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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.

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What if an Executor of an Estate Destroys the Decedent's Last Will & Testament?

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What Constitutes a Legal Will?

A will is a testator's final directive about her property. A valid will effectively disposes of all of the testator's assets after her death according to her own choices. In order for a will to be valid, the testator must be competent, must intend to make a will and must execute the document according to state law. Absent a valid will, property passes to blood relatives under state intestate distribution laws.

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A trust is a legal instrument, created by a settlor, in which property is held by a trustee for the benefit of another party, known as the beneficiary. Trusts can be living -- effective during the settlor's lifetime; or testamentary -- part of the settlor's will and effective only after his death.

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When executed wholly and correctly, a will is a legal document that supersedes any other document, contract or verbal conveyance the testator may have established during her lifetime. This is because a will is a type of one-sided contract, defining the wishes and instructions of the testator as she herself describes them without any outside or undue influence. However, there are multiple facets of a will that establish it as a legal, binding document.

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