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How can I change or cancel my will?

Tips to updating your last wishes as life changes.

Because you can’t predict when you’ll need a will, writing one early in life is smart. But as life changes — more children, job promotions or upgraded homes — you’ll also want to update the details of your will.

Do I need to change my will?

A will can provide your loved ones with a map of how you’d like them to arrange your funeral, distribute your assets, designate next of kin and update details of your estate. This legal document can also provide you peace of mind that your legacy will live on.

As life’s circumstances change or improve, updating your will can go a long way in preventing confusion and strife among family members after your death. Without crucial updates to address major life or estate changes, anybody who stands to benefit from your will could contest it, sometimes requiring a costly hearing in probate court. In short, the more accurate and clear your will is, the less likely it will be challenged.

Keeping your will current helps your family fulfill your wishes — from funeral arrangements and organ donations, to where your assets will go and who will take care of your children.

You’ll want to periodically review your will, changing it to:

  • Update your marital status.
  • Change or add beneficiaries.
  • Address increased assets or wealth.
  • Include your wishes for organ donation, a funeral and an executor.
  • Revise your financial situation.
  • Add new or upgraded insurance policies.
  • Incorporate your 401(k) or retirement plan.

How do I change my will?

Changing your will isn’t as simple as crossing out a section here or adding a name there. Once your initial will is squared away, you may want to start by calling a lawyer, financial planner or other professional.

Because a will is a legal document, changes to it will requires a witness or notary, usually with a lawyer’s help. Doing so can help you void older versions of your will, so that there isn’t confusion as to which version is most current on your death.

You have three main ways to change the information in your existing will:
  • Change your original will. Though professionals don’t recommend it, you can make changes directly to your original will. But you run the risk of leaving multiple versions, which can be messy and confusing to your surviving loved ones.
  • Adding to your existing will. A lawyer can help you put together legal additions — called codicils — with witness signatures to make them official.
  • Creating a new will. Typically the easiest option, especially for big changes, you can legally render your original will null and void, replacing it with an updated legal will that supersede any other version.

How do I cancel my will?

Any time you write a new will, you’re effectively canceling your old will. To strengthen your new and clear up any potential confusion, include a statement clearly revoking all previous versions of your will.

To explicitly cancel your will without creating a new one, you can create, sign and notorize a legal document that clearly indicates you intend to revoke your will.

Still another way is to physically destroy your will by burning, tearing, cutting or otherwise mutilating your will in front of two witnesses. Note that it must be destroyed beyond recognition, so that nobody can challenge its validity by presenting even a portion of it in probate court.

Do I need a lawyer to change or cancel my will?

Not necessary — but that doesn’t mean that you should try to do it on your own. Updating or canceling any will is complicated and incorporates state laws that dictate how and when a will can be modified.

With the help of a lawyer or estate-planning professional, you can guarantee that everything’s valid and legal binding. You’ll have peace of mind that you’re preventing your loved ones from any discomfort in distributing your assets while they grieve.

Bottom line

It’s smart to update your will with life’s changing circumstances to guide the future care of your children, address increased wealth or designate who your home or anything of value goes to. For more dramatic changes, consider canceling your will by writing a new one.

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