The most common reasons to change your will after it has been executed include the following:
- You get married or divorced
- Your family increases through the birth or adoption of child
- There is a death of a family member or of a beneficiary
- There are changes in the Federal Estate Tax laws or State Tax laws that may effect your estate
- There is a substantial change in the value of your estate
- You change the nature of your property holdings, which impacts your distribution plans.
- A potential guardian, executor, or Trustee moves away, dies, or refuses to serve in that capacity.
- Your children reach the age of majority, or are old enough to manage financial matters on their own
- You move to a different state
- You need or want to eliminate gifts to certain people
To change your will, there are two basic choices, and professional assistance is in order for both. First, you can prepare and properly execute an entire new will that revokes the previous will. Second, you can prepare and properly execute a codicil to the will. A codicil is a separate document that adds to and/or replaces one or more provisions in an existing will. What makes the most sense for you will depend on the facts and circumstances. For example, if there is a new tax provision that favors provisions in existing wills, but not new wills, or there may be a question subsequently raised about your mental competence. In these cases, a codicil would generally be the best choice.
Codicils were used frequently in the past, but lawyers now use computer technologies that can quickly integrate any changes you want to make—even minor ones—into an entirely new will that is up to date. Because of the ease of making the changes, the fees charged to make these modifications are usually modest. Your lawyer may even suggest revisions to your will that take account of new laws, tax rules, and changes in your circumstances that you may have overlooked in your previous will. Regardless of the ease of making these changes, never try to make changes in your will on your own. If you write in the margins, add material, cross out words, lines, or sections of the original will you could possibly create some confusion or ambiguity and thereby invite unpleasant and protracted will contests.