You should review and change your will on a regular basis in order to keep it current. Many people these days make wills, but not all of them realize that it needs to be modified whenever something changes in their life, most often with their finances or relationships. It is wise to update or revoke your will in light of any new circumstances, that way your family and friends avoid any unnecessary problems when your estate is being settled.
How do I revoke a will?
To revoke a will without making a new one, all you have to do is intentionally tear it up, deface it, burn it or destroy it. If this is done accidentally, then the will is not revoked.
An old will cannot be revived once it has been revoked. If you make a new will (which revokes all prior wills) and then decide you like your old will better, you would need to make a whole new will that replaces the new one and mimics the old one. Otherwise, all old wills are invalid.
To revoke an old will by creating a new one include in the new will a phrase such as "I hereby revoke all former wills that I ever made". You can include specific dates of previous wills if you want, however it is best to still leave the revocation open to include any wills in addition to the ones listed.
Wills Kept By Someone Else
If your attorney keeps your will in his office for safekeeping you can call him and ask him to rip it up but he must do it in your presence. If you are on the phone with him when he does it, the revocation is ineffective and the will is still valid. If the original will is kept by anyone else you can direct them to destroy the will for you however it should also be done in your presence and at your direction.
If Revocation is Ineffective
If you do not properly revoke your old will, it remains alive and it may be admitted to probate along with your new will (depending on State jurisdiction rules). In that event, the court may try to dispose of your estate pursuant to the terms of both wills. If there is an inconsistency between the two, the terms of the most recent will take precedence. All the remaining provisions of the old will are still given effect, provided they do not conflict with the new will!
For example, you bequest your car to your mother and your home to your sister. You later write a new will that devises the car to your father, but you don't mention the home and you never revoke the old will. Both wills may be valid and probated. Because there is an inconsistency between the two wills with respect to who gets your car, the most recent will controls and it passes to your father. The home will pass to your sister under the first will even if you didn't want her to receive it.
Crossing Out Provisions
Can you just cross out the provision you don't like and insert a new one on your existing will?
This is called a "partial revocation by physical act". Although it is permitted in some states, it's not recommended. What if you have so many changes that you are left with a will with a lot of crossed-out provisions? How is the court to know whether you intended to revoke the entire will or just portions of it? And what if your new clauses are hard to read or understand? At a minimum, you should make the change by executing a codicil to the will. And if your changes are significant, then you would do your beneficiaries a favor by rewriting your will. It is more time-consuming but you ensure that there will be no problems when the will is probated.
If you do want to cross out a provision make sure this is allowed in your jurisdiction.
Personal Property Memos
Some States, such as my home State of Washington, allow for personal property memos. If allowed in your jurisdiction this can be a powerful tool to modify your will without needing to revoke it. The authority or reservation to create such a memo must be stated in the will. The memos must be dated and signed but are not usually required to be witnessed. Multiple memos are allowed and conflicting bequests (leaving the same painting to two different people) are resolved in favor of the latest date. These memos can be revoked simply by destroying them or creating a new one with conflicting bequests. Personal Property Memos are not used to revoke sections of a will. Instead, they are used to create subsequent bequests (which can thereby supersede specific bequests in the will).
Adding a Specific Provision
If personal property memos are not authorized in your jurisdiction, can you simply add a new provision to an existing will? No. This type of change will be ineffective because it was not present when the will was executed. If you add anything new to the will, you must re-execute it for the new material to be valid. In other words, it must again be signed by you and your witnesses. Best to use a formal codicil to the existing will or execute a new will and revoke the former will.
Reinstating a Revoked Will
You revoke a 2000 will through a clause in the will executed in 2010. Now you have decide to revoke the 2010 will because you want to reinstate the terms of the 2000 will. Can you just tear up the 2010 will and do nothing more?
No. The 2000 will was revoked and remains revoked. You must take affirmative action if you want to revive its terms, and you have three options. You can create a new will that contains the same terms as the 2000 will. You can properly re-execute the 2000 will (re-date it and have it signed by you and your witnesses). Or you can execute a codicil that states your intent to revive the 2000 will. Remember to completely revoke the 2010 will!