While many people include a trust agreement in their estate plan, a Last Will and Testament continues to serve as the foundation for most estate plans. If you have a Will in place, you may have executed that Will some time ago. In the intervening years, circumstances may have changed prompting the need to make changes to your Will. A Los Angeles estate planning lawyer at Collins Law Firm explains your options for amending your Will.
Last Will and Testament Basics
A Last Will and Testament is a legal document that allows the Testator (the person creating the document) to direct the distribution of his/her assets after death. In addition, a Will allows the Testator to appoint an Executor to oversee the administration of his/her estate after death and lets a parent nominate a Guardian for minor children in case a Guardian is ever needed.
How Can a Will Be Amended or Changed?
Understandably, the terms of a Will you executed in your 20s will probably not remain applicable as you move through life. Marriage, parenthood, increased wealth, relocation, and a variety of other factors may make those terms obsolete or insufficient. That, in turn, may cause you to want to make changes to your existing Last Will and Testament. To ensure that the changes you make a legally binding, you need to follow the proper procedures when amending or changing a Will. While you should always work with an experienced estate planning attorney to ensure that changes are made correctly, let me explain the most common options available when changes need to be made to a Will:
- Codicil. A codicil is a written document that describes precisely how to change your Will. This option should only be used for minor changes to an existing Will, such as changing the name of the Executor or changing the dollar amount of a specific bequest to an existing beneficiary. To create a codicil, you simply write down the changes you wish to make and sign the document in front of witnesses. State laws differ regarding the need for witnesses; however, it is always best to have witnesses even if they are not legally required. Make sure the codicil is kept with the original Will. While creating a codicil can be an easy way to amend an existing Will, people often create more problems than they solve by trying to attach a codicil without the assistance of an attorney.
- Revoke and rewrite. If the changes you wish to make are more substantial and/or numerous, creating a codicil is not a good idea and can lead to an increased risk of litigation after you are gone. Instead, it may be best to simply revoke your existing Will and execute a new one. Once again, however, you should consult with an experienced estate planning attorney to ensure that you successfully revoke your existing Will and that the new Will you create is valid.
- Letter of Instruction. Some changes to your Will are not, in fact, changes to your Will. When that is the case, a Letter of Instruction may suffice. A Letter of Instruction lets you explain decisions made in your Will or provide additional instructions/information that your Executor and/or beneficiaries may need. This is not a legally binding document; however, if you are including one for the first time or replacing an existing one it is a good idea to sign and date it nevertheless.
- Personal Property Memorandum. If your original Will has a personal property memorandum, you may be able to simply replace it. A personal property memorandum is an attachment to a Will that lists all your personal property along with important details, such as account numbers, location of the property, and approximate value. For the memorandum to be used during the probate of your estate, your Will must reference the memorandum. It is always wise to sign and date a new memorandum if it is intended to replace an existing one.
Contact Collins Law Group
For more information, please download our FREE estate planning worksheet. If you have additional questions or concerns about amending a Will, consult with an experienced Los Angeles estate planning lawyer. Contact the Collins Law Group by calling (310) 677-9787 to register for one of our FREE estate planning workshops.