It is certainly not uncommon for people to change their minds after an estate plan has been drawn up or a will executed. Some people tear up pages or write all over a will to create their intended changes. There are many different ways to make changes to an estate plan or will, but without the guidance of an experienced estate attorney, a prior and properly executed plan or will trumps any do-it-yourself edits.
A recent article from Elder Law Answers, “Efforts to Change Will Using Photocopy and Then Downloaded Form Are Ineffective,” describes a case decided by the Minnesota Court of Appeals in August 2015, proving that is is possible to “fail to revoke” a will.
Esther Sullivan created a will in 2006 that left half her estate to a former employee—a properly executed and valid will. In 2008, she had a change of heart. She photocopied the will and made handwritten changes to it, all of which she initialed. She also wrote that the 2006 will was void. This new document removed the former employee and left half the estate to someone else.
In 2010, she downloaded a form will off the Internet, filled in the blanks and signed, believing it was her new will. The court, however, ruled that the 2006 will was still valid. The reason? Neither the 2008 document nor the 2010 document were properly executed. Consequently, neither “new will” could by law revoke the 2006 will.
Even though it is clear that Sullivan wanted to revoke her will and no longer wanted the former employee to get half of her estate, her failure to properly revoke the 2006 will means that the former employee will get the inheritance.
In your own estate planning, be sure to work with an experienced estate planning attorney whether you want to create, change or completely redo your estate plan. Planning ahead and ensuring that your wishes are clearly expressed and properly executed will give you and your family peace of mind.
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Reference: Elder Law Answers (August 2015) “Efforts to Change Will Using Photocopy and Then Downloaded Form Are Ineffective”