Most estate planning documents can be changed. Noted exceptions are those specifically designed to prevent alterations, such as an irrevocable trust. There are typically 3 ways to change your estate plan, although some are recommended over others.
1 – Hand Edits
Let’s start with the one people seem most inclined to try, which is to take a pen and mark changes to an existing estate plan. Any time alterations are made to a legal document, every individual change must be accompanied by initials. Otherwise, the change is not valid. However, even with initials, such changes can be problematic and here’s why.
First and foremost, handwritten changes can be prone to dispute. When you sign critical documents such as a will, you do so in front of a notary and witnesses. They attest that you appear to be signing the documents of your own free will. Edits made later will not have been witnessed or notarized. Thus, someone could argue that they were made under duress, were forged, or somehow invalid altogether. Thus, hand edits are not the best way to edit estate planning document.
2 – Add an Amendment
One of the more common ways to change your estate plan is to create an amendment. Amendments are a separate page and cover only terms from the original document that are now being changed. The amendment can be notarized and signed in front of two witnesses, to confirm the validity of your signature. This is a good option for minor changes to estate planning documents. You would not use it to make lengthy or multiple changes since it could become
more confusing figuring out what remains the same versus what has changed from the original.
3 – Draft New Documents
For major changes to estate plans, drafting new documents is the better solution. Within the new documents, you would void all previous versions. The new versions would clearly state your directives and be self-contained.
Additional Notes on Ways to Change Your Estate Plan
Any time you wish to change to your estate plan, consider consulting with your estate planning attorney. Some changes may seem simple enough, but the language and process used to apply them can be important. Additionally, if others have copies of your estate plan, be sure to provide updated copies to those individuals. By taking proper steps during the change process, you preserve the integrity of your estate plans and ensure they continue to achieve your set goals.