New York Wills: When And How To Change Your Will

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021

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For many of us, changing our wills to reflect the changes that have occurred in our lives is something we mean to do, but simply don’t get around to. However, changing a will is not as complicated as it used to be – and making those changes on a timely basis insures that your loved ones receive what you intended them to.

Changing a will in New York

How can a will be changed? To answer that question, we asked Elliot Schlissel, a New York attorney for over 30 years whose practice focuses on estate planning and several other areas of the law. Here’s what he told us in a recent interview:

A will itself can’t be changed. Once a will is written, you can’t cross out, initial or make changes to it. There is a process for changing wills in New York called a codicil. But generally speaking, lawyers will no longer modify wills by codicil. We write new wills. We revoke the will and write an entire new will, even if it’s just to change one clause because if you did the original will and you have it in your word processor, then it doesn’t take much effort. Codicils can create problems because someone named in a will whose bequest is eliminated or modified in a codicil now sees the conflict and can use that conflict for a will challenge. For example, if someone was left $100,000 in a will, the will gets revoked and now they’re left $50,000; they don’t know that they were originally left $100,000, so they have nothing to complain about.

Sometimes people change a will when a child or beneficiary predeceases them, they have a falling out with one of their beneficiaries, they inherit assets and want to change the basic plan or grandchildren are born and they want to do something special for them. To view a video on this subject, click here.

Avoid using online kits

We’ve all seen the on-line kits that are available to create and/or change wills. While these kits can certainly create documents, Schlissel says that, in his experience, users often wind up in litigation. He explained, “My experience is that most people who buy these kits online end up with wills that aren’t valid and they end up in litigation. If a will is not 100 percent correct, it will create litigation that will cost many thousands of dollars to straighten out. A will simply has to be 100 percent correct to be accepted; it can’t be mostly correct.” To view a video on this subject, click here.

For estate planning needs such as wills, trusts, healthcare proxies, powers of attorney or probate matters, contact an experienced New York wills attorney to discuss you situation and evaluate your options. Consultations are free, without obligation and strictly confidential.

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