Can You Change Your Will Without An Attorney?

  • Time to read: 4 min.

Generally, yes, you can change your will without an attorney.

But attorneys don’t generally recommend that you do anything with your will unless you understand what will be effective and what will not be effective, as you can do damage to your documents and ultimate estate plan.

In the following article, you’ll learn more about changing a will without an attorney.

Can You Change Your Will Without An Attorney? (EXPLAINED)

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Introduction To Will Changes

Most attorneys will not recommend that you embark on making changes to your will without consulting them.

There are several reasons for this, such as:

  • the lawyer doesn’t make money when you do it yourself.
  • you might undo some really significant and important provisions in the will without realizing it.
  • your attempted changes might not be effective, and you might not realize it.
  • you might not have the required mental capacity to make the changes, leaving your estate unsettled and open to challenge by your heirs.

That being said, presuming that you have the know-how and the mental capacity to make changes to your will, there isn’t anything that your attorney can do to stop you.

Primary Ways To Make Changes To Your Estate Plan

Codicils

The primary way that non-lawyers make changes to their estate planning documents is by executing a codicil.

A codicil is a formal document, like a will, which is usually executed with the same formalities as the original will.

While jurisdictions and laws may vary, in general the codicil must be written down (typed or handwritten), signed by the testator in the process of at least two witnesses, and the witnesses also sign off affirming both their presence and belief that the testator was in in sound mind, acting voluntarily and with knowledge.

In general, a codicil is very short, and intended to make simple and small changes to the ultimate estate plan.

You might see a codicil used to take the following actions:

  • update the addresses of references real property (such as “my home”).
  • change the name of the chosen executor/personal representative.
  • add additional children or grandchildren.
  • to update specific gifts that are no longer a part of the estate.

A codicil is generally simple to prepare, and can quickly become a part of the estate plan formal documents.

Replacement Will

The second way people make changes to their will is to execute a new will, fully and entirely, with the intent that the new will replace the old will.

This is generally the way attorneys recommend their clients make changes to their wills.

While this does usually help the attorney earn some money, it also helps prevent the client from doing harm to himself by making changes himself.

Handwritten Changes May Not Be Effective

It makes lawyers cringe, but it is really common for clients/testators to make notes on their formal wills.

They might “x” out an individual, or add items to the personal property list.

They might hand write in a paragraph, or try to x out large provisions.

Unfortunately, while these notes can be used as evidence of what the testator wanted, the notes are not guaranteed to be a valid testamentary disposition (depends on where you live as well as how well you made notes).

Further, unwitnessed handwritten changes are more open to contest by unhappy family members.

Instead of hoping that the handwritten changes will be followed, most attorneys recommend that testators utilize a codicil (even a pre-printed form), and follow through with the formalities of the witnesses.

Oral Statements

Just telling people that you are making changes to your will won’t be effective in most cases.

You might want someone else to be executor, but if you don’t want an enforceable change to your documents, the court will choose whoever is listed in your signed and witnessed will.

Don’t Wait

Most attorneys recommend that you move forward making the changes you want to make as soon as you decide you need the update.

What often happens is that people put off making the changes until it is too late, due to death or mental incapacity.

Sadly, both of these conditions can come on suddenly and without notice.

Wrap Up

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Can You Change Your Will Without An Attorney