When you execute your will, it is designed to accomplish all of your estate planning wishes upon your death. In your will you may state your desires for your funeral and burial, pay your debts and appropriate taxes for your estate, and name an executor to administer your estate. You can also name beneficiaries to receive your property and express any personal legacy to your loved ones.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Can You Amend a Will Without a Lawyer or Drafting a New Will?
- How to Remove and Replace an Executor From Your Will
- How to Remove and Replace a Beneficiary From Your Will
But since the time you executed your original will, many aspects of your life or the lives of those you named in your will may have changed. For example, the executor you named in your will may have died, become ill, or had a falling out. Perhaps you named your spouse as a beneficiary in your will but you are now, or soon will be, divorced.
Maybe one of your named beneficiaries has experienced a drug addiction, suffered a mental illness, or has become financially irresponsible. Perhaps you decided there is someone else better suited than the person you originally named in your will to serve as the guardian of your children. Maybe one of your adult children is now financially independent and no longer needs a share of your estate.
For these and many other reasons, you may decide that it’s appropriate to remove someone from your will. When this happens, you should not be afraid to make the changes you deem necessary. You can change your will as many times as you want. This article will explain the steps you can take to remove someone from your will.
Can You Amend a Will Without a Lawyer or Drafting a New Will?
Although you may have retained a lawyer to assist you in drafting your original will, it may not be necessary to hire the same attorney to remove someone from your will. In fact, you may not need an attorney at all because it is not necessary to draft an entirely new will just to make simple changes to your existing will. Instead, you may draft what is called a “codicil” to your original will.
A codicil is a legal document that is used to make changes to your existing will without having to revoke your original will and execute an entirely new one. Instead, the codicil supplements your existing will by clearly expressing the changes that you want to make and adding or incorporating those changes into the existing will, as if the two documents operated as one will.
Depending on the nature of the changes you wish to make, it may be appropriate sometimes to revoke your previous will and execute a new will. This is recommended if you have complicated or significant changes to make that may be confusing to the court to have to interpret from two documents.
However, if you simply wish to remove someone from your will without making a lot of substantive changes, you can do this very easily without an attorney and without drafting a whole new will.
The most common persons named in a will are:
The executors. The executor handles the administration of your estate when you die. You might name only one executor or you could name co-executors. You also might name one or more secondary executors who will assume this role only if a primary executor dies or is unable to serve in this capacity.
The beneficiaries. The beneficiaries are those persons you name to take specific property from your estate upon your death. You may have any number of beneficiaries you choose. A beneficiary may be:
- A person
- A group of people
- An institution
- A charity
- A trust
- A pet
It is not unusual, therefore, for someone to decide that they want to remove or replace an executor or beneficiary in their will. Here are the steps you can take to make these changes:
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How to Remove and Replace an Executor From Your Will
Step 1: Identify your document as a “codicil” to your existing will
If you simply wish to remove and replace your executor in your will by drafting a codicil rather than drafting an entirely new will, you should first identify your document as a codicil to your existing will by titling it accordingly and introducing it as such. This does not require any fancy legal language. You might simply title your document: “First Codicil to the Last Will and Testament of [include your name].”
This title will indicate that you do not intend to revoke your existing will but, rather, to incorporate changes or additions to your existing will, which will continue to operate as a legally valid document.
Also, because you may have more than one codicil, you should identify the codicil numerically (First, Second, Third, etc.) to avoid any confusion about the order of your codicils. Likewise, at the beginning of your codicil, you should identify the date on which you executed your existing will to be clear what document this codicil is supplementing.
Step 2: Clearly state the changes you wish to make to your existing will
When you have sufficiently identified and introduced your codicil, you should clearly state the changes you wish to make to your executor designation in your existing will. Your amendment should:
- Identify the section or paragraph number in your existing will within which you named your original executor
- Clearly state that you wish to remove the executor named in your existing will (you should identify that person by name)
- Clearly identify the person or persons with whom you want to replace your previous executor
Again, this does not require any specific legal language. Your codicil might simply provide: “As to [Paragraph Five] of my Last Will and Testament dated [date of existing will], I hereby remove [John Doe] as the executor of my will and designate [Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2] as the co-executors of my estate.”
Step 3: Confirm the validity of the rest of your existing will
After you have stated the changes you wish to make to your executor designation, it is important to clearly affirm that except for the changes stated in your codicil, all of the other provisions included in your existing will remain valid and applicable. This, also, does not require any specific legal terms or language.
You can simply provide: “With the exception of the amendments set forth in this codicil, all of the terms of my Last Will and Testament, dated [include the date on which you executed your existing will] are applicable and remain in full effect.” This reaffirms that you intend this document to be a codicil and not a new will that revokes your previous will.
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Step 4: Sign and execute your codicil
Even though your codicil is not a new will, you must execute your codicil by following the same formalities that are required for validly executing a new will. This means that you must:
- Sign your codicil with your fully-intended signature.
- Sign your codicil in the presence of the required number of witnesses (usually two).
- If your original will included a notarization, then you must have your codicil notarized.
When your codicil is fully executed, be sure to make one copy of your codicil for each copy of your original will that you have. This is particularly important if you keep copies of your will in different places.
How to Remove and Replace a Beneficiary From Your Will
Just as you may remove and replace an executor of your will, you also may remove and replace someone you named as a beneficiary in your original will. To do so, you should follow the same steps as for replacing your executor.
Step 1: Identify your document as a “codicil” to your existing will
In your original will, you likely named specific persons to receive individual items of property from your estate when you die. If you still wish to distribute a specific piece of property upon your death but simply wish to give that property to someone other than the person you named in your will, a codicil may be the appropriate instrument to make this change.
You should title your document accordingly to be clear that you only intend to amend a specific provision in your will and not revoke your previous will in its entirety by replacing it with a new will.
Step 2: Clearly explain your change in beneficiary
Because you likely have more than one beneficiary in your existing will, it is important to accurately identify the beneficiary you wish to remove and replace. To do this:
- Identify the section or paragraph number in your existing will within which you named the person you now wish to remove as a beneficiary.
- Clearly identify by name the beneficiary you wish to remove and describe the property they were to receive in your existing will.
- Clearly identify the person you now wish to receive that property and name them as the beneficiary of that specific property.
- Repeat this process for each individual beneficiary you wish to remove and replace.
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Step 3: Confirm the validity of your other beneficiary designations in your existing will
After you make your changes to your intended beneficiaries, include a short provision stating that other than the beneficiaries you changed in your codicil, you intend all other beneficiaries named in your existing will to receive the property that you gave them in your will.
This reaffirms that you intend this document to be a codicil and not a new will that revokes all of your other beneficiary designations in your existing will.
Step 4: Sign and execute your codicil
When you use a codicil to change a beneficiary in your will, you must follow all the State-required formalities for validly executing a will. This includes:
- A valid signature;
- Signed in the presence of a sufficient number of required witnesses; and
- With a notary’s seal, if required.
Remember to make a copy of your codicil to accompany each copy of your existing will in your possession.
Using a Codicil Is Effective for Making Simple Changes to Your Existing Will
If you want to make changes to your existing will, such as removing and replacing an executor or beneficiary, you can always revoke your existing will and execute an entirely new will that accomplishes your new intentions. However, drafting a new will (and perhaps hiring another attorney) are not necessary.
Instead, you can make changes to your existing will without revoking it by executing a codicil. Your codicil will amend your existing will by providing only the new changes you wish to make and supplementing your existing will with those changes. Other than the changes you provide in your codicil, your existing will continues to operate as your legally valid will.