How Do I Modify a Will Without a Lawyer?
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How Do I Modify a Will Without a Lawyer?

What circumstances should make you revise a Will? What are the do's and don'ts of changing a Will without a lawyer? In this article, we'll outline our best tips for how to modify your Will without a lawyer.

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If you have a Will, then chances are you have already had a reason to update it. The rule of thumb is that whenever something big happens in your life, you need to review your Will. Although you might think everyone knows this already, you couldn’t be more wrong! Celebrities frequently fail to update their estate plans, leading to big problems for their loved ones:

  • When soul singer Barry White died in 2003, his second wife inherited his estate and was named executor. What’s the problem with that? Well, White had been separated from wife number two for many years, but they’d never finalized their divorce. When he died, White had been living with his girlfriend, who assumed that she would at a minimum continue to live in the house they shared with their baby daughter. But since White’s Will still named his second wife as his heir, everyone else in White’s life was screwed.

  • James Brown had a Will when he passed away in 2006. However, he had not updated it to reflect his most recent marriage or his youngest child, also named James Brown. This triggered years of court battles between Brown, his widow, and his many children.

  • Chief Justice Warren Burger was a Supreme Court justice who presumably knew how to write his own Will so that it would be valid… except he totally screwed it up. When Burger died in 1995, he left a typewritten, 176-word will that contained several typographical errors. His apparent haste resulted in mistakes that led to his heirs paying nearly a half a million dollars in taxes. Since an executor wasn’t properly appointed, the family had to get court approval to complete basic administrative tasks, like selling property.

It’s too bad for Chief Justice Burger that FastWill didn’t exist, because he could have saved his family a lot of money! As for the Godfather of Soul and the Walrus of Love, they could’ve rectified their situations in minutes by following the basic avenues of Will modification. Here are our best tips for how to modify your Will without a lawyer.

What Circumstances Should Make You Revise A Will?

Evolving Family Dynamics: Over time, family dynamics may change due to births, deaths, marriages, or divorces. When these major life events happen, you should review your estate plans to make sure your assets are distributed according to your current intentions.

Asset Updates: Significant changes in your assets, such as acquiring or selling properties, starting a business, or inheriting a substantial amount of money, may require revisions to your Will to reflect your updated financial situation. Did you get a big promotion? Start your own business? Get a patent on one of your inventions? Then it’s time to revisit your Will.

Beneficiary Adjustments: Personal relationships can evolve, leading to changes in the people you wish to include as beneficiaries in your will. You may want to add new beneficiaries, remove existing ones, or alter the distribution percentages among them. Many people decide to add their step-children to their Wills, or decide that they need to provide for siblings or family members who have special needs. 

The Do's and Don'ts of Changing a Will Without a Lawyer

Educate Yourself: Before attempting any modifications, familiarize yourself with the laws and regulations governing Wills in your jurisdiction. Understanding the legal requirements and limitations will help ensure your changes are valid and enforceable. Lucky for you, FastWill is optimized to give you updated legal information from your state.

Review the Original Will: Carefully examine your existing Will to identify the specific provisions you want to modify. FastWill is able to use the appropriate legal language and can also instruct you on any requirements or conditions that must be met for changes to be valid.

Draft a Codicil: A codicil is a separate legal document used to make amendments to an existing Will. It must comply with the same legal formalities as the original will. Utilize templates or online resources to draft a codicil, clearly outlining the modifications you intend to make.

Draft a Personal Property Memorandum:  A personal property memorandum serves as an addendum to a Will, providing more detailed instructions about the distribution of your personal belongings. Unlike a codicil, a memorandum is more detailed and more informal. It can cover items such as jewelry, artwork, furniture, collectibles, family heirlooms, clothing, and other possessions that hold sentimental value. The memorandum is designed to let you easily update or modify the distribution of personal property without having to rewrite or amend the entire Will. To ensure a personal property memorandum is legally recognized, it should be specifically referenced in the Will itself. The Will should mention the existence of the memorandum and state that it should be given effect as if it were part of the Will. This ensures that your wishes regarding personal property are legally binding. 

Execution and Witnessing: When executing a codicil, you will follow the same formalities required for the execution of a Will. Typically, this includes signing the document in the presence of witnesses who are not beneficiaries or related to beneficiaries. FastWill can check your jurisdiction's specific requirements to ensure compliance.

Update Beneficiary Designations: Certain assets, like life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and bank accounts, allow you to designate beneficiaries directly. Regularly review and update these beneficiary designations to align with your current wishes, as they take precedence over provisions in your will.

A Will is a powerful tool for estate planning, allowing individuals to dictate how their assets are distributed after their passing. However, life is full of twists and turns, and when circumstances change, estate planning documents must change, too. While seeking legal advice is often helpful, in many situations, most of the time you don’t actually need to write a new Will or seek the advice of a lawyer. Thankfully, the online tools we’ve developed at FastWill can help you make modifications without the assistance of a lawyer.

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