Georgia law includes many requirements that must be followed for a will to be valid. That means any updates or changes must be done in compliance with the requirements for the changes to have the legal effect you intend. Changes attempted incorrectly could invalidate the entire document.
If you make a mistake when updating or changing your will, the error may not come to light until it is too late to correct the problems. Therefore, it is essential to make amendments correctly from the outset.
The Wrong Way to Change a Will
When you make a mistake writing a check—which is a legal document—banks allow you to cross out your mistake, write in new information, and just add your initials.
You can't do that with a will in Georgia. To be valid, the terms of a will must meet certain formal requirements. A court looking at a will with handwritten changes might not be satisfied that the changes legitimately reflected the testator's intent even if they were signed and attested to in accordance with the law. And, it can be very challenging to prove that the changes made by hand were properly signed and witnessed, to meet the requirements of being part of a valid will. As such, we never recommend attempting to make changes by hand on a previously executed will.
One Method for Making Changes: Create a Codicil
One way to make valid amendments to update or change provisions in your will is to create a legal document known as a codicil. The provisions in this document will be read together with the original will to establish your plan.
When you prepare a codicil, you must observe the same formalities as when writing an original will. For instance, you need at least two disinterested witnesses to sign the document. And, to avoid the need to prove up the validity of the execution of the codicil, a self-proving affidavit would also be signed by the testator and the witnesses.
In addition, you need to keep the codicil together with the will so that your executor and the court will know that the two documents must be read together. Because the documents can get separated or the codicil could create confusion about terms in the original will, it is often best to create a new will, and most experienced estate planning attorneys will recommend against using codicils.
Making a New Will
The best option in many situations is to create a new will and revoke the old one. This keeps things simple, since there is only one document, and it eliminates the possibility that the codicil may become separated from the will. Technology allows us to quickly prepare a new will, using current best practices, that updates the provisions you want to change, and print that new copy for signatures. The process is just as easy as creating a codicil and reduces potential problems down the road.
When to Update Your Will
It is important to review your will and other estate planning documents regularly and to make changes when key circumstances have changed. For instance, if a beneficiary gets married and changes their name, the will may need to be updated to reflect the new name. If the executor or guardian you nominated is no longer willing or able to perform the duties, then you need to update your will with new nominations.
If you change your mind about what beneficiaries should receive, you will want to make those changes. Essentially, any time you have a change in life circumstances, that can affect your estate plan, it's time for a review of your documents to ensure that they will continue to reflect your wishes.
Talk to Peach State Wills & Trusts About Updating Your Will or Other Documents
The general rule of thumb for estate plan updates is that you should personally review your documents each year and contact your attorney if you think a change in circumstances warrants a change in your plans. In addition, it's a good idea to have a review with your attorney at least once every three years.
If you have estate planning documents that haven't been updated in some time or that were prepared in another state, we invite you to schedule a consultation with the team at Peach State Wills & Trusts by calling 678-730-2079. We can prepare new plans or update existing plans to ensure that they will achieve your goals.