Revoking a will
About this series of articles
This article is one in a series of articles about writing your own will.
The articles explain relevant law and practical considerations when writing a will.
This article explains how to revoke or cancel your will.
How to revoke a will
A will remains valid for an unlimited period of time until it is revoked. You can revoke your will by:
Making a new will
A will is revoked by a later will only to the extent that new provisions are inconsistent with it. But any confusion could motivate a 'losing' beneficiary to challenge your latest will. This is a litigation minefield. So it is wise always to state that your new will revokes all earlier ones. In practice, if your executors believe they have your latest will, they are unlikely to hunt around for an earlier one which may complicate your estate.
The basic law applies no matter what you have done with your old will or where it is stored. If you have made a more recent will (and signed it in the presence of witnesses), the old one is no longer valid.
When you marry or remarry, your previous will is revoked automatically. If you don't make a new one, you will die intestate and in most circumstances, your wife or husband would inherit everything.
You can make a new will in anticipation of marriage, to take effect when you marry. If you use words in the new will which make clear that it is in contemplation of marriage to a named person, it will not be revoked automatically when you do marry.
Destruction of an old will
If you destroy your old will intentionally, you revoke it. But if you destroy your will only partially, and your executors or administrators do not know whether the destruction was intentional, they may ask the Court to decide whether the will is valid.
If your executors or beneficiaries think the destruction of your will was accidental, perhaps in a fire, they may succeed in an application to the Court to prove a copy of that will.
Editing your will once you have signed it
You must not alter your existing will in any way. You must not cross portions out or add other words or blocks of text to it. Neither should you attach extra pages with pins, staples or clips. You should simply prepare a new document and execute it as your will and then destroy the old one and all copies of it.
When you should write a new will
Here are just some of the events that would ordinarily require a change to your will:
- you marry (including registering a civil partnership) or divorce
- the birth, death or adoption of children
- the marriage, divorce or separation of a beneficiary
- to add or change guardians for children
- your financial position changes so that your old will is no longer viable
- tax law changes so as to change the effect of your old will
- you want to add or change beneficiaries or gifts or arrangements
- one of your proposed executors dies or you want to change him anyway
- moving abroad
Divorce, separation and unmarried partners
Neither divorce nor dissolution of a civil partnership revokes a will. However, if your ex-spouse (or civil partner) is named as a beneficiary, then he or she will cease to be a beneficiary unless the will expressly provides that the gift should occur even if you are divorced. A consequence can be that your estate is divided in a way that you did not intend, giving some beneficiaries a greater or lesser gift than intended, and leaving the estate liable to a greater liability for inheritance tax.
Separation has no effect on a will. If you die having separated, but not having rewritten your will, then your spouse will inherit as if she were living with you. If you both have found new partners since separation, your new partner may inherit nothing, while the partner of your spouse (and his or her family) may benefit from your gift to your spouse.
If you revoke simply by making a new will and including the usual words of revocation, make sure that you exclude any foreign will in your revocation. If you do not, the arrangements you thought you had made for your villa in Spain may not be effective after all.
Changes of name or address
It is essential to update the names and addresses of beneficiaries every time you make a new will, but if they are wrong when you die, your will be perfectly valid and your executors will give effect to your wishes provided only that each beneficiary can be identified - no matter where he is.
Review your will regularly
The Law Society advises that you review your will every five years. We suggest that you do so more often, perhaps every year, and whenever your circumstances change.
We recommend that you read about challenging the will of someone who has died next.
We believe that everyone should make a will. We provide some of our more straightforward wills (likely to be suitable for most people) absolutely free with no catches or conditions.
Just visit our library and choose the most suitable from the list of templates. We offer nine templates in total that together cover thousands of possible variations of wishes. There will be one to suit your situation.
If you are in doubt as to which to choose, read about where to start here.
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