Please don’t write on your estate planning documents

It’s rare for an estate plan to be put together and never be changed. Wills and trusts usually need to be changed over time as your circumstances, states of residence, and desired outcomes shift. It is important to know how you can properly change your will or trust so that these revisions will be enforced.

Writing on your will or trust to edit or amend it or attaching a hand-written addendum to this document isn’t a good idea. States have different requirements for how to change a will or trust, so it’s important to learn what is considered legally valid in your state.

For a will, a legally enforceable change can be accomplished by replacing the prior will document with an entirely new one (you’ll also want to explicitly state in the new document that all prior wills are revoked and replaced) or by adding a document called a codicil to the old will document. The codicil should specify exactly what part of the old document is being changed, and it will often reaffirm the other terms of the old will document that remain unchanged.

Similarly, you can also change a trust by replacing the previous trust document with an entirely new one (the name and creation date of the trust stay the same, though, and this is not a revocation of the trust) in something called a trust restatement. You can also change a trust with a trust amendment, similar to a codicil of a will. A trust amendment states which part(s) of the original trust document are being changed, and this amendment is added to the existing trust document

Each state has its own specific technical requirements for a will codicil or a trust amendment/restatement to be considered legally valid. Writing on the pages of a will or trust will almost never meet these requirements and is likely to cause major issues between family members and loved ones.

Handwritten wills (called holographic wills) are legal in some states but may have very specific requirements. Additionally, handwritten amendments may not meet the requirement of the law. As with so many things in the legal world, there are a lot of ways to mess it up, and only a few ways to do it right.

An estate planning attorney can help you with the changes you may need to make so that your will or trust will align with your wishes. For help with your estate plan, contact us at Wilson and Wilson Estate Planning and Elder Law, LLC