Trusts and Estates

Revoking a Will

Over the course of your lifetime, you may revoke and replace your will several times.

You can revoke your will at any time, for any reason. After you make a will, review it every year or so to make sure it still reflects your wishes. If it doesn’t, you can amend it with a codicil or revoke it and make a new one.

How to Revoke Your Will

There are several ways to revoke your will. You can:

  • Destroy it by burning it or tearing it up.
  • Attach a witnessed codicil that revokes the will.
  • Make a new will that revokes the previous will. (See below.)

The important thing is that it is clear that you’ve revoked it. The surest way to do this is to include the revocation as part of your next will.

However, if for some reason you choose not to make another will, be sure to leave clear evidence of your revocation. Inform anyone who knows about your will that you’ve revoked it (see below), and leave clear physical evidence, like a torn up will with a revocation codicil.

If anyone else knows about your will, it’s best not to simply destroy it. Without any further evidence of your revocation, a disgruntled potential beneficiary could claim that someone else destroyed it or that you were pressured into destroying it. This could cause a major hassle for your estate. (If you’re worried about someone contesting your will, get help from a lawyer.)

Who to Tell About Your Revocation

You aren’t required to tell anyone about the revocation. However, if you’ve distributed copies of your previous will, it’s a good idea to inform everyone who has a copy that it’s no longer valid. This will reduce confusion and minimize problems after you die.

The best case scenario is to distribute copies of a new will that revokes and replaces the old one. Don’t distribute signed copies unless they are clearly marked as duplicates of the original.

If you don’t make a new will, distribute copies of a codicil that revokes your will.

When to Revoke a Will

You may wish to revoke and replace your will if:

  • You get married
  • You move to a new state
  • You have a new child or grandchild
  • You no longer need property management for young beneficiaries
  • Your spouse dies
  • A named beneficiary or executor dies or becomes unavailable
  • A major piece of your estate no longer exists
  • A major piece of your estate has a significant change in value
  • You make a living trust

You don’t have to revoke your will every time your life experiences one of these changes. If the change is very simple, you can use a will codicil to amend your existing will. For example, if you want to swap one beneficiary for another or add a new grandchild to a shared gift, you probably don’t need an entirely new will. However, if the changes you want to make are many – or few, but complex—then revoke your will and make a new one.

Making a New Will

By far, the best way to revoke your will is to replace it with a new will that revokes your old one. By revoking your old will in your new one, you’re tying the two documents together, so that the trail is clear. This is a very common practice and can be as simple as including a phrase like this in your new will: I revoke all wills and codicils that I have previously made. Or you can be more specific by adding: including the will I signed on January 12, 2015.

If you don’t make a new will, your estate will be distributed according to your state’s intestate succession laws. For most people, intestate succession is not the best way to distribute property. So, unless you have a compelling reason not to make a new will, make a new one when you revoke your old one.

See a Lawyer for Help

If you have any questions about revoking your will, if you’re concerned that someone might contest your will, or if you want help making a new will, contact an experienced estate planning lawyer.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • How often should I review my will?
  • What happens if I don’t inform my beneficiaries that I’ve revoked my will?
  • What if I’m worried that someone will contest my new will?
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