Our guide explains how to revoke (cancel) your will, why you might want to do so, and why it’s a good idea to review your will every two years
Ways to revoke a will
The law in England and Wales allows for certain ways a testator (you, the person writing your will) can revoke a will, whatever your reasons:
Make a new will that cancels out your old one
This is perhaps the simplest way of revoking a will, and is the best option if you’ve been through any major life changes.
When you write a new will it’s likely to contain an ‘express revocation clause’ - a statement that says the new will cancels out any old ones. This is to avoid any confusion that could come from having several wills active at the same time.
If there’s no revocation clause, and if the new will is not consistent with your old one, the old one is still valid.
Intentionally destroy your original will
Whether you tear it up, put it through a paper shredder or burn it, the important thing for legal purposes is that you intend to destroy it. If you damage or destroy it by mistake, the law will not accept that you meant to revoke it.
To make your intentions clear, you can write and sign a statement saying that you’re deliberately destroying your will in order to revoke it. It’s also worth deleting any digital copies and destroying printed photocopies if you have them.
If you’re storing your will with a solicitor, be aware that most will not destroy a will on your behalf - they’ll give you back the original so that you can destroy it yourself.
If someone’s will is missing after they die, the law assumes they intentionally destroyed it
It’s very hard to argue against this, even though wills do go missing and accidents happen. The assumption means that people could inherit your belongings on the basis of a previous will, or under the rules of intestacy - laws that set out the order in which relatives can inherit when there’s no will. So it’s important to think about where to store your will safely. If there’s evidence that you did not mean to destroy it, it may be possible for a copy or draft will to be used in probate - because of this, it’s best to keep copies of your will as well.
Why revoke a will
It’s common to want to revoke a will when your life circumstances change
This could be because you:
no longer own the possessions you listed in your will;
have gained new belongings and want to include them;
want to remove beneficiaries (people who inherit your possessions) or add new ones;
need to change the person you’ve named as executor;
have changed your mind about funeral wishes that you’ve written in your will.
It’s generally better to write funeral wishes in a separate letter
This is because your family may want to start making arrangements before they can get access to your will. It’s also because your will may become a public document, if your executor needs probate to handle your estate. If you’d prefer your funeral wishes to remain private, you can write them down in a separate letter along with any other personal messages.
Marriage and civil partnership automatically revoke any will you made before
Unless you specifically state in your will that you’re writing it in anticipation of your marriage. You can make this clear by including the words ‘in anticipation of marriage to [name]’ in the will.
Any will you wrote before you got married that does not state its link to the marriage will no longer be valid. So you should write a new one as soon as possible. If you do not, the rules of intestacy will come into play when you die, to decide how to distribute your possessions.
Divorce does not revoke a will like marriage does
But the law does assume you no longer wish to give your former spouse or civil partner any of the things you listed for them in your will. So the divorce will revoke any bits of your will that mention your former spouse or civil partner.
Everything else relating to other beneficiaries stays the same. In the absence of your ex-spouse, other beneficiaries may end up getting more than you intended. For that reason it’s best to review and update your will after you get a divorce.
When to update your will
It’s a good idea to review it every two years
This is to make sure that your will reflects any changes in your circumstances. This includes things like:
You have a new child
You get engaged, married or divorced
You move house
You buy or sell any property
You inherit money or property
One of your executors, beneficiaries or guardians dies
Inheritance tax legislation or the law governing wills changes
If you write your will with Farewill, you’ll have a year to make unlimited changes, with no extra charge
After that, it’s £10 a year for as many updates as you need. It’s easy to do in your account online. You can log back in at any time, navigate to the section you want to update and make your changes. Then, when you’re done, click the button on the summary page to send your will for checking.
After our experts have approved your updates, you’ll need to print and sign your updated will with two witnesses before putting it away somewhere safe.
To avoid any confusion for your executors after your death, it’s also important that you destroy your old will. You can do this by shredding it, tearing it up or burning it, and deleting any digital copies.
Choosing your executors is an important part of writing a will
An executor is somebody you nominate to carry out the wishes left in your will. They could be a friend, family member or a professional – but it should be someone who feels comfortable and confident administering your estate. You need to appoint at least one executor – but you can name up to four people.
A codicil is a legal document that allows you to amend an existing will
It alters part of your existing will but leaves the rest of it intact. At Farewill we do not write codicils - instead, you can make unlimited updates to your will for just £10 a year.
But traditional will-writing services may use codicils to add, delete or tweak something in your will. You might write a codicil when one of your beneficiaries dies, for example.
Codicils are separate to the will itself and you’ll need to store them alongside your will. This helps to make sure your executors are aware of any changes you’ve made when sorting out your estate.
If a codicil makes drastic changes to a will, the court may get involved to help oversee the handling of your estate. This is more likely if there are multiple codicils to the original will.
If the changes you want to make involve more than 10% of your estate, it’s best to make a new will.
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