Are Handwritten Changes to a Will Legally Binding?

Your typed Last Will and Testament may have accurately reflected your wishes when you first signed it, but circumstances can change over time. Perhaps you now desire to replace the original executor with another trusted family member. Or maybe you’ve decided that your niece should inherit Grandma’s cherished china instead of your nephew, and you want your recently acquired Harley Davidson motorcycle to go to your brother.

Considering the seemingly minor nature of these changes, you might be tempted to simply cross out some names and replace them with others. Alternatively, you could insert a few lines directly into your original Will and initial the amendments to show your responsibility for the alterations. But will these methods hold up legally?

The short answer is no.

Understanding the General Rule

Any alterations or interlineations made by the Testator before signing a typed Will are considered valid. However, changes made after the Will has been signed hold no legal weight.

Regardless of any handwritten modifications, the original Will’s terms will be upheld during probate. Unless the Testator follows all the required formalities for making a Will when introducing changes, those modifications will be disregarded. Additionally, if the Testator makes numerous interlineations to the point where the original Will’s terms cannot be established, the probate court may refuse to admit the Will for probate.

Exceptions for Holographic Wills

It’s important to note that these rules don’t apply to holographic Wills if there is evidence that the Testator made the changes in their own handwriting. In such cases, the probate court recognizes alterations and interlineations as valid revocations of previous provisions and as new provisions.

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Correcting Your Will Effectively

One option for amending your Will correctly is by signing a codicil. A codicil serves to modify specific sections of an existing Will. For example, if you’ve reconsidered your choice of executor or trustee, you can use a codicil to reflect this change.

However, codicils must be signed with the same formalities as a Will. They are also more prone to being misplaced intentionally or inadvertently, particularly if multiple codicils are created. This can hinder the fulfillment of the Testator’s wishes. Additionally, conflicts between the amended sections and other provisions in the Will may arise, so it’s crucial to understand how each change affects the document as a whole.

While there are situations where a codicil may be the most appropriate option, creating a new Will is often the preferred course of action. Codicils were more common in the past, before word processors became widely available. They were used for minor alterations instead of rewriting the entire document. Nowadays, with the convenience of word processing technology, the attorney who drafted your Will can easily make simple changes and address any potential conflicts with other provisions.

Remember, it’s essential to consult with a qualified attorney to ensure that your Will and any amendments are legally binding and accurately reflect your intentions.

This article was originally published on June 16, 2014, and updated on March 10, 2021.

Garrity Traina