How to Make Changes to Your Estate Plan

How to Make Changes to Your Estate Plan

As life circumstances change (birth, marriage, divorce, death), it may become necessary to make changes to your estate planning documents. If estate planning documents are not kept up-to-date, they can become useless. The best way to make changes to estate planning documents is to either restate an estate plan in its entirety or make specific changes to documents like a will through a codicil or a trust through an amendment to the trust.

While it may be tempting to just take out a pen and make changes to documents by hand, this is not recommended. Changes will not be effective unless you use the same formalities as you did when drafting the original estate planning documents, such as a will, trust or power of attorney document. And depending on state law, changes made by hand on a will or trust may void the will or trust altogether. If you sign your name to handwritten changes and have the changes witnessed, it is possible that a court will find that the changes are valid, but there is no guarantee and there are likely to be delays with the court while your final wishes are sorted out concerning handwritten changes to a will or trust document.

If you have small changes to make to your estate planning documents (i.e., changing your executor, successor trustee, or updating a name that has changed) a simple codicil to your will or amendment to your trust can be appropriate. The benefit of codicils and amendments is that they usually are cheaper than redoing or restating the entire planning document. The same rule applies to the codicils and amendments in that those documents should be dated, signed, witnessed and, with respect to trust amendments, notarized. Always keep the amendments or codicils of any document with the original documents so that individuals who are called upon to act on your behalf after your death can easily find the documents that make changes to your original will or trust.

If you have significant changes to an estate planning document like adding a spouse or removing a beneficiary, or have multiple changes, it is typically better to update the entire will or restate the entire trust than write one or more codicils or amendments. The updated documents should include a date and clear statement of all previous documents that are revoked or changed in any way by the codicil or amendment.

Before you make any changes to your estate planning documents, you should definitely consult with your attorney.