Changing your will

Most people review their wills when they have children or grandchildren or when their financial situation changes and there are other situations when you should make a new will. Depending on what sort of change you’re making, you should either add to your will or write a new one.

Do you need to change your will?

It’s a good idea to review your will every now and then to make sure it still says what you want it to say. And you should definitely look at your will again when:

  • you have children or grandchildren – you may want to change who gets what
  • you get married – marriage revokes a will in England and Wales (but not Scotland)
  • you get divorced – getting divorced doesn’t revoke a will, although in England and Wales your ex husband/wife or civil partner wouldn’t benefit from it
  • someone named in your will dies

You can make small changes to your will – such as changing the executors or adding a legacy – by using a document called a codicil. A codicil is a straightforward document that needs to be signed and witnessed in the same way as a will.

You shouldn’t alter the original will document. If you would like to make significant changes to the will, then it might be better to write a new will. If you do write a new will you can revoke the old one by destroying it.

Using a codicil

There are no rules about what you can change using a codicil – it could be anything from a single word to many different sections of your will. But it’s a good idea to use codicils only for very small changes, because they can make sorting out your will more complicated when you die.

A codicil has to be signed and witnessed in the same way as your original will, but you don’t need to use the same witnesses. Don’t use someone as a witness if they or their husband/wife or civil partner benefits from a gift in the codicil – it will make the gift to them (in the codicil) invalid.

Codicils: pros and cons

  • If you’re using a will writing service or a solicitor, adding a codicil is usually cheaper than writing a new will.
  • A codicil should be kept with your original will – codicils can get lost and raise questions over the original will.
  • If you’re changing several parts of your will, it’s usually better to write a new will.

Writing a new will

This is usually the best option, especially if you want to make anything more than very small changes. It’s just like writing your will for the first time, but with a few extra things to look out for.

  • Make sure your new will clearly says that it revokes any older wills or codicils.
  • If you own assets in different parts of the world and have a corresponding will, make sure that your new will does not inadvertently revoke that other will.
  • Destroy your old will and any copies – either by tearing it up, shredding it or burning it. Otherwise two (or more) wills could be found and it might not be clear which one should be followed.
  • Tell your executor where your new will is kept so they can find it when the time comes.