How to change a will

Your will should be revised as changes happen to your family and circumstances. Find out how to revise your will and whether you need a codicil.

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by Brette Sember, J.D.
updated May 11, 2023 ·  4min read

When you make your last will and testament, you do so based on your current situation. Situations can change though with marriage, divorce, new children, and grandchildren. When big changes happen to your family, it’s time to think about updating a will.

Marital changes

Changes to your marital situation are one of the most common reasons for changing a will. If you get married, you will likely want to create a new will including your spouse. Most states automatically give a portion of your estate to your spouse whether you include him or her in your will or not, but you will likely want to decide for yourself what you want to leave your spouse. If you live in a common-law marriage state (Alabama, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Washington, D.C.) and you meet the requirements, your partner may be eligible for an automatic inheritance when you die. You may want to write a will choosing what to give your common-law spouse yourself. Note that many states prevent you from completely disinheriting a spouse in your will.

If you divorce, you will also want to change your will. Most states revoke provisions for divorced spouses in wills, but it is best to redo your will. Lastly, if your spouse passes away, you should create a new will choosing other beneficiaries for your estate.

New additions

Many states have provisions for what are called “after born children,” children or grandchildren born after a will has been executed, taking the share that pre-born children get and dividing it equally among all children in existence when the will is probated. Despite this, it is better to create a new will if you have a new child or grandchild you would like to leave something to. If you have a new baby, you will want a new will so that you can name a guardian for that child, should you die while your child is a minor. Stepchildren do not automatically inherit from a stepparent, so if you become a stepparent and would like to leave something to a stepchild you’ll need to revise your will.

Other changes

There are other situations that should prompt you to revise a will. Should any of your beneficiaries pass away, the will should be revised. If your executor dies, you should also update your will. If there is a change in your financial situation it is a good idea to review your will. For example, your will might leave your home to your daughter, but if you have sold that home and now live in rental unit, your daughter stands to inherit nothing unless you update it. If you obtain unique or valuable new assets (such as meaningful jewelry or a valuable painting) you may wish to update your will to leave the item to a specific person.

Revoking a will

If you are wondering how to change a will, the safest and most thorough way to make changes to a will is to make a new one. You must also revoke the old will. To revoke a will, you include a written statement in your new will that you revoke all previous wills and codicils previously made by you. Copies of the old will should be destroyed once the new will is in effect so that they can never be mistaken for a current will. Your new will must be executed and signed according to state law and then becomes the only valid will.

Altering a will

If you need to make a small change to an existing will, such as changing your executor, you can execute a codicil to will.

What is a codicil? The definition of a codicil is simple, it is an amendment to your old will. The old will remains valid and in effect. You can alter a provision in your will with a codicil, or you can add a provision, such leaving your newly acquired boat to your grandson.

A codicil has to be executed and signed exactly as you would a will, but there is no standard codicil form. The danger with a codicil is that it could get separated from the will and lost. Codicils also have been known to create will challenges, so they should be created with caution. Note that you cannot alter a will by making changes on the original will itself. Striking out clauses or writing in changes is not a valid way to alter your will. You have to write an entirely new document.

Your will should change with your life. Making changes to your will allows you to keep it current and ensure all of your wishes are carried out. It is important to know how to update a will in a way that is legal and carefully planned.

If you need to create a new will or replace an existing one, LegalZoom can help. Making a will through LegalZoom is fast and affordable. Get started by answering a few questions. LegalZoom will prepare your will package and send it to you.

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Brette Sember, J.D.

About the Author

Brette Sember, J.D.

Brette Sember, J.D., practiced law in New York, including divorce, mediation, family law, adoption, probate and estates,… Read more

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