Can I change my last will and testament myself?
What you need to know
In a world where do-it-yourself (“DIY”) projects are all the rage and the internet provides guides to everything from DIY home improvement to DIY tattoos, a person may be tempted to try his or her hand at revising/changing an existing Last Will and Testament. The unfortunate reality is that some matters- including estate planning- are ill suited to tackle without special knowledge and training.
Generally speaking, modifications to a will must be executed with same formalities as the original will.
The specific statutory requirements for execution of a will exist to prevent fraud and mistake. If a person attempts to change his or her will by crossing out items on an existing will, the changes are rarely recognized as valid by Washington courts. See, e.g., Estate of Malloy, 134 Wn.2d 316, 328, 949 P.2d 804, 810 (1998) (finding that a testator’s penciled-in cancellation of portions of will was invalid without formalities required for execution of wills).
A narrow exception to this general rule exists if a person’s original will refers to a separate writing for the transfer of tangible personal property. Washington statute allows a person to gift specific types of “tangible personal property” by a separate writing that may be made before or after the will is executed. Id. “Tangible personal property” does not include “money” or “bank accounts.”
In order for the separate writing to be valid:
- the will must refer to it
- the person must handwrite or sign it; and
- it must describe the property “and the recipients of the property with reasonable certainty.” Id. The separate writing is not “a will” and does not need to meet the formalities of a will. This means that the separate tangible personal property writing can easily be created and amended.
If you desire to make minor or significant changes to your will, it is best to consult with an attorney to ensure your estate plan is properly drafted and executed. Drafting a proper estate plan now can help minimize the stress and anguish of difficult decisions or disagreements for your loved ones in the future.
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