Understanding Your Right to Change Lawyers for Wills and Trusts
No, you can go to any attorney you want to update your will or trust. You may choose to hire a new attorney because you have moved to a new state, your prior attorney has retired, passed away, or you simply did not love the experience (see our article on how to pick an attorney). However, if you liked the prior attorney and they are still in practice, they likely (should) have an editable copy of your trust or will that can be easily updated. If you go to a new attorney, they might need to draft an entirely new will or trust because the attorney does not have an editable version of your existing will and trust. Aside from the logistics of editable document, not all wills and trusts can be amended.
Restrictions and Considerations for Joint Wills
Joint wills, unless specified in the document, can only be modified if both parties to the will are willing to sign a new will or a codicil. A codicil is a fancy legal word for addendum. A codicil must be signed with the same formality of a will – it must be in writing, signed by the testator and witnessed by two individuals over 18 years old and not receiving under the will. If one party to the joint will has passed away, the survivor may be unable to change the will at all.
Understanding the Amendment Restrictions of Irrevocable Trusts
Not all trusts can be amended – some trusts are made so they cannot be! If you had an irrevocable trust it may not be possible to amend unless there is a provision in the trust allowing it to be modified. Once the settlor of the trust passes away, the trust cannot be modified, regardless of the type of trust it is.
Making Significant Amendments: When to Start Fresh
If you are making significant changes to your will, there are not as many roadblocks to using a new attorney. It will essentially be starting from scratch. Significant changes would involve a lot of additions or subtractions to your family unit. For example, if your existing estate plan was created when you were single and you are now married with 3 kids and 2 cats, then your plan will look extremely different and a new document will need to be created. If you tried to simple add codicils to your single-person will, it would be confusing for your heirs and the court to interpret.
State-Specific Legal Considerations for Wills
If you have moved states since executing your last will, it likely makes sense to use an attorney in the state you reside. Every state has a different policy on estate taxes, which may impact your plan. In addition, every state handles wills and probate slightly differently, so to ensure your assets go where and how you want them, it would make sense to retain a new attorney in your current state.
The Importance of Understanding Your Legal Documents
Anytime you are making a legal document, it is really important that you, the reader, understand it. Attorneys may use unfamiliar words within your documents for a reason. Be sure you ask! Like everything in the legal world, it is best to really understand the will or trust before you sign it so you know how it works and how it can be changed (or not)! If you have questions about how to amend a will, reach out to our estate planning attorneys.