It’s rare for a person to put their estate plan together once and never change it. A recent article from Coeur d’Alene/Post Falls Press asks a good question: “Can you amend your estate plan by writing the changes on your existing documents?”
Effectively and legally changing your will or trust so the changes are enforced per your wishes is best done with an experienced estate planning attorney. People often hand-write edits and changes to the original documents, thinking this is the simple way to amend their wishes. Most attorneys have tales of family members coming into their offices with a handwritten addendum added to the front or back of a will or trust document, which has been written and attached after the document has been signed and executed.
These approaches are problematic, as they are never done in a way that meets the requirements for a legally valid amendment to a will or trust.
A legally enforceable change to a will is accomplished in one of two ways. One is to replace the entire document with a new will document, which should include explicit language stating all prior wills are revoked and replaced, or by adding a new document called a codicil to the old will document. The codicil must make clear exactly what part of the old document is being changed, and typically, it reaffirms the unchanged terms of the old will.
Changes to a trust are accomplished in most states in one of two ways. The first is by replacing the prior trust document with an entirely new trust document, although the name and creation date of the trust must remain the same, and it is explicitly not a revocation of the trust. This is called a trust restatement. The second way to change a trust is using a trust amendment, similar to adding a codicil of a will. A Trust Amendment is a new document added to the existing trust document. It states which part or parts of the original trust document are being changed.
Every state has specific technical requirements for a will codicil or trust amendment/restatement, which must be followed to enforce the changes legally. Just writing on the documents will never meet those requirements and will almost always lead to major disputes among family members and other interested parties.
Handwritten or holographic wills are legal in some states. However, those states have very specific requirements, and wills still need to go through probate. There are many ways to create major problems trying to use this method and only a few ways to do it right.
The good news is an experienced estate planning attorney can help with any modifications, large or small, to make your estate planning documents accurately reflect your wishes.
Reference: Coeur d’Alene/Post Falls Press (Aug. 16, 2023) “Can you amend your estate plan by writing the changes on your existing documents?”