It is extremely common for people to create a new will after they have previously created a will, or to create a codicil which modifies a previous will through addition, deletion, or other changes. After all, a person’s circumstances frequently change as their life goes on in ways that affect the distribution in a will. For example, a person might obtain new property that he would like to bequeath or may lose or sell property that would have been distributed to a beneficiary. Or new family members and loved ones may enter a person’s life while some of those listed in the will might grow distant or pass prior to the testator. A person may also decide he wants so structure his estate planning in ways that require a change to the will, such as through incorporating a living trust, testamentary trust, life insurance, or annuity. In all cases, California law allows a person to update his or her estate planning via a new will or codicil, but the question remains whether the new will or codicil will automatically revoke (in other words, render legally ineffective) the previous will or at least certain portions of it.
How to Revoke a Will or Portions Thereof
Under California’s Probate Code, a will or specific portions of that will can be revoked where any of the following occurs:
- A new will or codicil contains an express revocation of a previous will (e.g. “I hereby revoke any and all previous wills in my name”) or portions of a previous will (e.g. “This codicil expressly revokes the gift of $50,000 to my brother John Smith listed in my will”)
- The new will or codicil contains provisions which are inconsistent with statements made in a previous will. For example, if you had bequeathed your prized racehorse Samantha to your son in a previous will but create a codicil clearly bequeathing Samantha to your daughter, the previous gift to your son will be revoked.
- You can also revoke a previous will or codicil via a physical act by burning, tearing, canceling, obliterating, or destroying the will with the intent of revoking it in the presence of a witness you have directed to witness the event.
An experienced estate planning attorney can provide further direction on the proper steps to take in ensuring your will is legally effective and all testamentary instruments you wish to cancel are properly revoked.
Work with a Pasadena Estate Planning Attorney Today
Christopher B. Johnson is an estate planning attorney in Pasadena, CA who has helped thousands of individuals and families over the past 18 years in creating and reaching their estate planning objectives, including the creation of new wills and codicils. Schedule a consultation with him today to discuss your estate planning goals.