If an estate plan isn’t kept current, it can become useless. You always want to make sure your will is up-to-date with your wishes, your financial circumstances, and current tax and other laws.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that changing a will is not a “do-it-yourself” process. Generally, any changes to your will must be made with the same formalities as the will itself, including witnesses and signatures.
In the past, some people have tried to make changes to their will by simply crossing out some parts and writing in others. Not only are these changes unlikely to be legally effective, but in some circumstances they can result in the entire will being declared invalid. At the very least, they can result in a lengthy and expensive court proceeding to sort out your wishes.
If you only want to make a simple, specific alteration – such as naming a different executor or updating a child’s name that has changed – a codicil may be appropriate. A codicil is a separate, short document that makes an amendment to a will. The benefit of a codicil is that it is usually cheaper and easier than redoing the entire will.
However, a codicil still has to be formally dated, signed and witnessed. Be sure to always keep the codicil with the will so your personal representative can find it easily.
If you have a significant change to make to your will, such as adding or removing a beneficiary, or if you have more than one change to make, it’s generally better to simply write a new will. The updated will should include the date and a clear statement that all previous wills and codicils are revoked.
As always, before you make any changes to your will, you should consult with an attorney.