Amendments to Wills


Can You Change Your Will?

Yes, wills  can be changed and amended. The legal term for an amendment to a will is a “codicil”. Codicils must meet all the requirements of a validly executed will. They are a standalone document that should be kept alongside the original will for safekeeping. A codicil may be very simple in nature or it could be very broad, drastically changing the original terms of the will

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Determining whether you need a codicil or a new will can be a tough decision. Most of the time we encourage clients that have multiple codicils already to go ahead and execute a new will. We incorporate the previous codicils into the new will. The logic behind that decision is that the more separate documents you have the easier it is to lose them. Moreover, multiple amendments are often confusing and difficult to follow, especially if more recent codicils amend older codicils.

Can You Change a Will by Crossing Through Sections?

Generally speaking, it is never a good idea to hand write over a typed will that was previously executed. Most of the time this action creates very difficult problems when the will is being offered into probate. The judge must determine whether the changes to the will are valid based upon the requirements for a handwritten will. The judge must decide:

  • Are the handwritten changes actually in the handwriting of the person who executed the original will?
  • Were these changes signed by the testator? 
  • What if the handwritten changes are ambiguous or unclear?

As you a can see, there can be a host of problems associated with physically crossing out sections or adding handwritten provisions to a will. We strongly discourage clients from taking such actions and instead recommend that if they desire to make changes to their original will they execute a new will or codicil incorporating the changes the client desires.

Can You Amend a Will by Making a Handwritten List?

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Yes, Tennessee law has recently changed to allow tangible personal property such as furniture, clothing, guns, or heirlooms to be distributed to certain beneficiaries even if the writing does not qualify as formal codicil or amendment to the will. However, there are certain requirements the list or writing must have in order to be valid:

  1. The list must be referred to in a will.
  2. The list deposes of tangible personal property not otherwise disposed of in the will.
  3. The list is handwritten by the person who died; or if it is not handwritten, the list must be signed by the deceased.
  4. The list is dated.
  5. The list physically describes the items with reasonable certainty as to what the items are.

To be clear, these types of lists can only be used for personal, tangible property, not for bank accounts, investment accounts, real estate, or property used for a business.

Generally, the best course of action is to prepare a will that allows for flexibility down the road. The will should have a clause that states that the person making the will may make a list in the future that bequeaths certain personal items to individuals in the future and directs the executor of the will to look for such a list and follow its instructions.

Need to Change Your Will? We Can Help.

Time and taxes have a way of changing your circumstances. Once you create your estate plan you should considering updating it at least every five years or so. Stay on top of the situation by contacting will Attorney John Crow at our Clarksville office. Our number is 931-218-7800. John is more than happy to answer questions you have about updating your will

Next Up - Learn About Revoking Wills.

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