How can I change my will?

Published 01 Sep 2015

Author: David Cossalter

Estate planning is crucial for people who want their assets to be distributed among their loved ones according to their wishes. An important part of the process is writing a will.

However, what happens when you've already produced a will but wish to make changes? After all, most people go through a number of life-changing events that could affect who you wish to provide for when you pass away.

Whether it's the birth of children, the accumulation of wealth or the death of a beneficiary, there are many reasons why a will might need amending.

This article outlines the best ways to update your estate planning documents in order to avoid an inheritance dispute arising after your death.

Codicil

A codicil is designed to update an existing will and has the same legal requirements to ensure its validity. Codicils are separate documents from the will and often outline minor changes in the testator's intentions.

For example, if the person writing the will wishes to keep the same beneficiaries but adjust the amount they receive, a codicil may be the preferred option. However, it is often simpler to produce an entirely new will when there are large-scale changes or beneficiaries need to be swapped out.

Write a new will

Some people write a new will every couple of years to account for major life changes. Even when a significant event hasn't occurred, NSW Trust & Guardian suggests reviewing the document every five years.

Examples of when you should produce a new will include:

  • Marriage, separation or divorce
  • The birth of children or grandchildren
  • The death of executors or beneficiaries
  • Significant fluctuations in wealth
  • Starting or ending a de-facto relationship

Automatic revokes

Your existing will can be revoked, either in part or in its entirety, in certain circumstances. A marriage, for example, will cancel out your will unless it was specifically written with your upcoming betrothal in mind.

A divorce will revoke specific portions of the will that refer to your ex-spouse, such as any gifts you've bequeathed them and their role as an executor if they've been nominated.

Are there disadvantages to changing my will? 

People who frequently change their will could run the risk of challenges to their estate, particularly when the document is updated informally or the individual is suspected to lack testamentary capacity.

There have been many cases where the testator has produced multiple wills in the years leading up to their death, creating confusion among loved ones regarding how the estate should be distributed.

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