Changing a Will

Do you need to update your Will? There are many reasons why you might need to change your Will. Often people update their Will when a new child or grandchild enters the scene, or when their financial position changes. Here we look at how you can change your Will and what to do if you want to update a Will after someone has died.

When should I change my Will?

It’s worth checking your Will regularly to see if everything is still relevant and as you wish. You should consider changing your Will if any of the following changes in circumstances apply to you:

  • New children or grandchildren
  • Marriage
  • Divorce
  • Death of a beneficiary
  • Change of executor

Having children or grandchildren is a very common reason for changing a Will, to ensure these new additions to the family become beneficiaries. Equally, a Will should be changed if you get married, as in England and Wales, a Will becomes invalid after marriage unless it was specifically written to reflect that marriage. Similarly, if you get divorced, you will need to re-evaluate your estate and ensure that your estate is split equally among your beneficiaries. In England and Wales, a divorce only affects the gift left to the ex-partner, and the rest of the Will is unchanged. This is also the case if someone named in your Will dies, as you’ll need to decide where their share of your estate goes. In addition, you also need to update your Will if you want to change the executor. This might occur if the previously named executor no longer wants responsibility for sorting out your estate after you have passed away.

How to change a Will

There are two options available for people who wish to change their Will:

  • Adding a codicil to the Will
  • Making a brand new Will

Firstly, people can use a document known as a codicil, which allows for minor alterations to be made to a Will. While there is no limit to the number of codicils that can be added to a Will, they still need to be witnessed and signed in the same manner as Wills. If you have more than one or two minor changes, it’s generally recommended that you write a new Will.

What is a codicil?

A codicil is a document that allows you to make minor amends to a Will without needing to rewrite the original document. Codicils can help people implement small changes (e.g. adding a charity to receive a gift) and save people the trouble of having to restart the Will-writing process. Codicils can be useful for quick changes, but it’s also worth considering that one of their functions was to save people the hassle of writing out an entire Will for a second time. With the advent of computers, you can make these changes without having to write out the entire Will again from scratch, so some people may find it simpler to re-do the Will rather than adding a codicil. In general, it’s advised that you only use a codicil for the following circumstances:

  • Changing the value or recipient of a gift (including charities)
  • Appointing a new executor, trustee or guardian
  • Alterations to funeral plans

Furthermore, if you’re looking to make more than one of these changes at once, it’s recommended that you make a new Will rather than use a codicil so that your amends are adequately understood.

Example of a codicil to change executor

Here are a few templates which show the language and structure needed in a codicil:

How much does it cost to change your Will?

Changing a Will using a codicil through a solicitor will usually cost between £30 and £70, but it is worth paying this fee rather than completing the codicil yourself as there is an inherent risk that it might be lost or ignored if not filed correctly. Once a codicil has been written, it’s best practice to let your executor know that this change has been made and where you will store the document. The cost of rewriting a Will is similar, with Will writers such as Co-op Legal Services offering updates at a fee of £60 for Single Wills and £90 for Mirror Wills. For this reason, some people prefer to have the Will rewritten entirely, as the cost is similar and it avoids the risk of losing information in separate codicil documents. The other means of changing a Will is through a subscription to other Will writing services such as Farewill. For an annual subscription of £10 (and with the first year free), you can make unlimited changes to your Will.

Can a Will be changed after death?

A Will can be changed up to two years after a person has passed away. For this to happen, all beneficiaries left worse off by the changes need to agree. It’s often thought that a declaration or deed of variation is needed to make changes to a Will after someone has died, but you don’t need to be this formal. A simple letter (still known as a variation) will do in most cases. To make changes to a Will after the named party has died, several conditions must be met, including:

  • Being dated within two years of the date of death.
  • Being signed by all those adversely affected.
  • Clearly indicating what has changed compared to the original Will.
  • A Stamp Duty exemption certificate if amending the recipients of stocks, shares or marketable securities.

Furthermore, the variation may not be effective for tax purposes if it:

  • Changes an interest in assets held in a trust or assets given away but with a reserved benefit.
  • Alters assets or entitlements that have already been amended.
  • Adds assets to the estate and paid to an original beneficiary to compensate for their losses.

Lastly, if the variation affects inheritance tax or Capital Gains tax of this or any other estate, you will need to send a copy of the variation to HMRC. In these instances, executors and administrators must sign the variation, and it must also be submitted within six months of the date of the variation. The only changes that cannot be made to a Will after someone’s death are to the guardians and executors named in the Will. It's also worth considering that if a beneficiary is a minor, they won’t be able to consent to any changes legally, so you must either wait until they are 18 or stick with the Will as it is.

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