A will is a legal document that outlines how your estate is distributed after death. However, life is always changing, so there may come a time when you need to nullify your will. Fortunately, there are several ways to invalidate a will. If you’re an older adult who’s seeking answers about this very topic, you’re in the right place! Here’s everything you need to know about making a will null and void.
People may wish to nullify their wills for a variety of reasons. From marriage to the birth of a grandchild to the death of a named beneficiary, there are countless reasons to void a will. However, major life events are not the only reasons people may wish to change their will. Other circumstances that may require a testator to void their will may include:
Taking the appropriate measures to revoke a will properly is critical! If you don’t follow the right steps, multiple wills may surface following death. While most probate courts will validate the most recent will, this can bring a slew of complications, setbacks, and even costly legal action. Additionally, there are many instances in which the court won’t accept the most recent will. Keep in mind that states have different laws and requirements for wills. Always consult an attorney when revoking a will and make sure you follow your state’s legal requirements!
First, as previously mentioned, if you want to revoke a will, it’s always a good idea to seek the counsel of an estate or trust attorney. However, there are several methods by which one can make a will null and void.
The simplest and most common way to make a will null and void is by creating a new one. However, it’s crucial to specify that the old will is no longer valid. This will make things easier for your beneficiaries, clearing up any potential confusion. Additionally, the will should be signed in the presence of two witnesses to prove you’re of sound mind.
Adding a codicil to your existing will can also invalidate the original version. A codicil is a document that amends, rather than replaces, a previously executed will. Think of it as a legal “P.S.” It’s important to note that it only nullifies and changes certain provisions. If you want to start fresh, a codicil is not the way to do so. Additionally, you should use very exact, specific language. Indicate what provisions you’re changing in order to nullify previous ones.
Physically destroying the will is another method to make it null and void. You can tear, burn, shred, or otherwise damage the document so that can’t be read or recognized as a will. However, only the testator (the person who made the will) should do this. A secondary party can also destroy the will so long as there are witnesses. If someone else destroys the will without the testator’s knowledge or consent, it may not be considered invalid.
Disposing of assets named in the will is another way to invalidate it—or, at least, certain provisions of it. This can be done by selling, giving away, or otherwise relinquishing ownership of the assets. If the assets specified in the will no longer belong to you at the time of your death, those provisions cannot be carried out. For example, if you willed a car to a relative but sold the car before you passed away, then that inheritance would simply fail.
Unfortunately, people can be coerced into adding beneficiaries against their will. If there’s sufficient evidence to prove undue influence or that the testator lacked testamentary capacity when the will was created, then it may be deemed invalid. Undue influence involves manipulation or coercion that results in the will reflecting someone else’s intentions rather than those of the testator. Lack of testamentary capacity means that the testator did not understand the nature of the will, the extent of their property, or the claims of the beneficiaries when they made the will. In cases like this, it’s possible to challenge the validity of a will and draft a will that fulfills all the testator’s wishes.
It happens. Life sometimes spirals out of control, and in such cases, wills can sometimes be invalidated without us having to lift a finger. For example, if you get divorced and your spouse is named executor, the Uniform Probate Code mandates that the appointment be revoked, unless there’s a specific provision in the will preventing that. This can also apply if you designate gifts for step-children. Of course, always check your state’s law and seek legal counsel before making any decisions about your will!
Unfortunately, once the testator dies, the will cannot be revoked. Only the testator can initiate the process of revoking a will. However, it’s still possible to contest a will. You cannot contest a will unless you have a valid reason to do so. In the legal field, this is known as “standing” and “grounds.” Some circumstances that may allow for contesting a will include:
Making a will null and void is a significant decision that should be made carefully. Always consult with an attorney who specializes in estate planning before taking any steps to invalidate a will. Still looking for more information about wills? Then check out these great articles next:
Originally published October 30, 2023