When and How to Change Your Will

Many people assume it is easy to change their Will; just take out a pen and make the changes you want then file it away for safe keeping. But in reality, a Will may be changed or revoked only by following specific procedures. These are generally best done with the assistance of an attorney.

Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 191, § 8, provides that a Will may be revoked in three ways: (1) by a new document executed in the manner required for a Will; (2) by a change of circumstance giving rise to a revocation implied by law; or (3) by “burning, tearing, canceling, or obliterating it with the intention of revoking it, by the testator himself or by a person in his presence and by his direction.”

Specific legal requirements also govern the modification of a Will. Changes to a Will—words, figures and provisions that are added after the Will was originally signed, or provisions that are crossed through or blotted out—are not automatically given effect. Instead, the validity of the changes must be determined by a judge; a process that may prove both time-consuming and costly.

Initially, a court must determine whether the changes to the Will were actually made by the deceased, and their intent at the time the marks were made. For example, a question may arise as to whether the deceased intended to revoke the Will in its entirety or only in part. Likewise a court may question whether marks and writings on the document were intended to modify the Will or merely indicating changes to be made in a contemplated but never completed new Will. Alternatively, the marks might be construed as clarifying, but not altering, a provision made ambiguous by changes elsewhere in the Will. Where the circumstances under which changes were made are unknown, anyone seeking to enforce the changes must prove not only that the deceased was of sound mind at the time the markings were made, but also that the markings reflect their intent to change the Will.

It is advisable to review your Will every couple of years, or any time there is a change in circumstance in your life, such as marriage, the birth of a child or grandchild, or the purchase of new property. If you feel that changes need to be made, consult an attorney, so that your wishes are properly and effectively reflected in the document. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions about drafting or modifying a Will.

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