If you want to make changes to your estate plan, do not think you can just scratch out a line or two and add your initials. For most people, it is not that simple, says the Lake County Record-Bee’s recent article “Amending estate planning documents.” If documents are not amended correctly, the resulting disappointment and costs can add up quickly.
If you live in Texas, for example, a trust can be amended using the method that is stated in the trust. Typically, a trust that was created by a written document must be revoked, modified or amended in writing, with all the formal execution requirements or the original document. But a trust is a legal agreement, so if the trust states what method is acceptable, then that method must be used.
In a recent case, the deceased settlor made handwritten notes—he crossed out existing trust language and hand-wrote his revisions to a recently executed amendment to his trust. Then he mailed this document, along with a signed post-it note stuck on the top of the document, to his attorney, requesting that his attorney draft an amendment.
Unfortunately, he died before the new revision could be signed. His close friend, the one he wanted to be the beneficiary of the change, argued that his handwritten comments, known as “interlineations,” were as effective as if his attorney had actually completed the revision and the document had been signed properly. He further argued that the post-it note that had a signature on it, satisfied the requirement for a signature.
The court did not agree, not surprisingly. A trust document may not be changed, just by scribbling out a few lines and adding a few new lines without a signature. A post-it note signature is also not a legal document.
Had he signed and dated an attachment affirming each of his specific changes made to the trust, that might have been considered a legally binding amendment to his trust.
A better option would be going to the attorney’s office and having the documents prepared and executed.
What about changes to a will? Changing a will is done either through executing a codicil or creating and executing a new will that revokes the old will. A codicil is executed just the same way as a will: it is signed by the testator with at least two witnesses, although this varies from state to state. Your estate planning attorney will make sure that the law of your state is taken into consideration, when preparing your estate plan.
If you live in a state like Texas, where handwritten or holographic wills are accepted, no witnesses are required and changes to the will can be made by the testator directly onto the original without a new signature or date. This is definitely not recommended though. Be careful about a will like this. Even if legal, it can lead to estate challenges and family battles.
Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney, if you decide that your will needs to be changed. Having the documents properly executed in a timely manner ensures that your wishes will be followed.
Reference: Lake County Record-Bee (October 5, 2019) “Amending estate planning documents.”