Are handwritten will amendments legal?

Date: Mar 01, 2016

When estate planning, it is advisable to start as early as possible or else you risk starting estate disputes. However, between the beginning of the estate planning process and when you die, your circumstances, needs and interests may change.

This begs the question: Can a will be altered at any stage and do handwritten amendments count?

Wills and estate planning: A dynamic process

A famous author once said that there are two certainties in life, taxes and death. While many people are familiar with the phrase, some are still no closer to preparing for the inevitable.

According to the New South Wales government, at least 45 per cent of Australians have not created a valid will. Unfortunately, this leaves many Australians open to dying intestate, or passing on without leaving a record of their final wishes.

Intestacy refers to the estate of the deceased who died while owning property and assets that are not covered by a will. However, intestacy does not just occur when there is no will, it can also occur because of several other reasons, for instance:

  • The will is void because it was not signed and witnessed in accordance with the law
  • The will was not drafted and structured in accordance with the law

For both these examples, an experienced lawyer with a background in estate planning can help you find a solution.

One of the most frequently encountered issues is that a will does not fully encompass all of a person's estate. This can occur, for instance, if a person acquires new assets, beneficiaries of the estate have passed away or new beneficiaries have emerged. A situation like this will create a scenario of partial intestacy.

In any case, a will maker may want to alter this document in an effort to update it and make it more relevant to their contemporary needs.

How can a will be altered?

Whether a person's circumstances change or not, a will would stay in effect in its last valid format, unless alterations and amendments are made. However, the will cannot be changed through obliteration, interlineation or any other form of alteration unless the will maker follows a very specific legal procedure.

Specifically, to alter a will, the individual must sign off on the alteration as well as two present witnesses. The signatures should also be kept as physically close to the textual alterations as possible.

Alternatively, you could ask you estate planning lawyer to draw up a Codicil - a document that will be read alongside your will but will include any alterations or additions.

However, any amendment or codicil must be drafted very carefully to ensure that it does not have unintended consequences, and usually the preferable and safer course is to draw a new will.

If you would like to know more about estate planning, talk to Craddock Murray Neumann Lawyers today.