The Challenges of Altering a Last Will and Testament – Part II
Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
June 18, 2015
For those of you who have been following my blog, you may remember my previous post on altering a will. The first chapter in my two-part series discussed some of the wrong ways to alter a will and relayed the story of Fred Putney and his two sons. Click here to read the original post.
To refresh your memory or to catch up any new readers, I’ll review the plight of the Puntneys: Fred had created a will that left his family grocery store to his son Thomas, but not to his son Joseph. When he revealed his estate plan to his sons, however, neither of the two young men was happy with the arrangement. As a result, they convinced him to revise the document by penciling in changes—though Fred wasn’t so sure.
The Right Ways to Alter a Will
Though Fred had misgivings, he valued the happiness of his sons above all else. Immediately after his discussion with his sons, Frank dug his will out from his desk drawer and found a pen. Carefully, he used the pen to cross out the line where he named Thomas as the new owner of the family grocery store, like so:
“I leave full ownership of the Putney Corner Grocery Store to my son, Thomas Putney.”
In the space above the crossed out sentence, he wrote a new one:
“I leave full ownership of the Putney Corner Grocery Store to both my sons, Thomas and Joseph Putney.”
The entire process took less than a minute.
That was easy, thought Fred to himself as he carefully tucked his will back into the drawer. But had it been too easy? Fred decided to run his changes to the will by his attorney, just to be safe.
Little did he know what massive problems his quick motion of a pen would cause.
When Fred’s estate planning attorney heard what Fred had done, he tried not to cringe.
“You may have gotten yourself into a bit of a pickle, Fred.” he said, leaning back in his chair with an understanding look. The seasoned estate planning attorney explained that altering or tampering a will after its creation renders it completely invalid. Effectively, by crossing out graphs (typed lines) and penciling in changes, Fred had made it so the will had never been written. Without a valid will, Fred’s business and the rest of his estate would be distributed according to state intestacy laws.
Fred was stunned. “You mean, my will is completely useless now? Just because I made that one tiny change?”
“It’s possible to make changes to your will after writing it,” his attorney said carefully. “But you have to do it the right way.”
Fred’s attorney explained that there are two choices when it comes to altering a will in a way that is legally valid under Florida law. An estate owner can either draw up an entirely new one or execute a codicil—an amendment or addition that is attached the will. Unlike an entirely new will, which would completely revoke the original will, a codicil would recognize the existence of a previous will and simply add to it or change it.
“Since you already invalidated your original will, executing a codicil is no longer an option,” Fred’s attorney noted. “Which means we’ll have to start from the drawing board and create an entirely new will.” The lawyer smiled reassuringly and pulled out a new piece of paper. “Ready to get started?”
Fred was disappointed that he had to completely rewrite the will he had spent months drawing up, but glad that his lawyer had notified him of the consequences of altering it before it was too late. And now that Fred had an opportunity to start a fresh new will, he could approach the process with a better idea of his family’s needs and desires. This time, he’d talk with his sons about his estate plan before setting anything in stone. Importantly, if the need to alter or amend his will arose again in the future, he’d talk to his attorney first.
Consult With an Estate Planning Attorney before Amending or Adding to Your Will
Are you considering amending or adding to your last will and testament? Before doing so, it’s important to consult with an experienced Florida estate planning attorney. An invalid will can cause a lot of emotional hardship, legal complications, and undue stress among your survivors, and your attorney can help you execute changes in a way that protects the validity of your will and ensures your wishes are honored. With the help of an attorney, the process of updating your will can be seamless and smooth.
Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
Strategic Planning With Purpose
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