Can I Make Handwritten Changes to a Will without an Attorney?

October 9, 2013
Updated on October 30, 2020

At some point you may want to update or change a will after you have created it. Rather than taking the will to an attorney, you may attempt to change the will yourself. Not all handwritten changes to a will may be valid, however. It is important to remember that state law governs the creation and revision of wills; therefore, you should check the laws of your particular state before making any changes to your will.

Depending on the laws of your state, handwritten notes in a will may qualify as a valid testamentary disposition. This is more likely to occur if the changes are entirely in your handwriting, and are signed and dated. Conversely, a court in another state may find that the entire will is invalid based on the handwritten notes.

Despite what the laws of your state say about handwritten changes in your will, it is important to remember that such changes are ripe for challenge. If your beneficiaries challenge handwritten notes within your will, the cost of defending your will may deplete the funds in your estate. Further, it will take longer for your estate to be distributed among your beneficiaries.

If you would like to modify your will, the proper venue to do this is through a codicil. A codicil is a legal document, added to your will, through which you can make valid changes to your estate plan. You must sign the codicil with the same formalities that are required for the will. In most jurisdictions, this involves the signature of at least one witness. To avoid the headache of having your will consist of multiple legal documents, you always have the option of replacing your outdated will with a new, updated will. Like most matters concerning estate planning, it is essential that you consult with an estate planning attorney that will help you to understand how your state law impacts the legal status of your plans and make sure your estate plan will work as you intend when it really counts.