February 20, 2023

Be Careful When Attempting To Modify or Alter a New York Last Will and Testament

last will and testament document with penA last will and testament is an incredibly important legal document that outlines an individual’s wishes in how they want their assets distributed and how they want the care of any dependents to be completed. One might call the final will the last will, but it is also, in essence, your last document. Or at least the last legal document that will be read on your behalf.

So to say this is an important document is an understatement. Your last will and testament needs to be drafted with conscious intent as a strong reflection of your desires. Additionally, it should be drafted and signed with all of New York’s special estate laws in mind, as there are certain laws that may nullify any modifications you make after an original will was signed or otherwise make it difficult for your will to be followed as desired.

Things To Know Before Making Changes to Your Last Will & Testament

So many clients think that once they have decided their will set-up, whether probate or living trust, and they have written their last will and testament, they are good to go; that their assets will be protected and their beneficiaries are established. On the contrary, things change; other things can alter how we want our final wishes to go. The good news is that you absolutely can make alternations or modifications to your last will. However, those changes must follow certain requirements.

Why It’s Complicated When Making Changes

In seeking to protect the desires of last will and testament writers, New York State law has made altering or otherwise modifying a New York last will and testament a bit difficult. Legislatures have added language to final estate laws that put up extra roadblocks whenever a change is attempted, making it important to talk to an estate attorney in NYC regarding last wills.

So, before you pull out a napkin and pen in order to readjust how you want to bequeath things, an important consideration here is that all alterations and modifications to an existing will must satisfy the requirements that are set out in New York’s estate law. A very pertinent one to understand is Estates, Powers, and Trusts Law Section. This section is called “Execution and Attestation of Wills; Formal Requirements.” As its name suggests, there are formal requirements for those who want to change an already established will. There are two critical ones those looking to change their will should know:

  1. There must be two attesting witnesses at a change of will, and both those witnesses have to be completely impartial. This is guaranteed due to a stipulation that prevents any witness from inheriting or otherwise benefiting from a will they witnessed.
  2. A no contest clause in most altered wills ensures that anyone who chooses to contest the will in a Court case risks losing all rights to any inheritance should they lose.

Why It’s Important to Be Careful When Attempting to Modify or Alter an Existing Will

State courts and legislatures have added these two clauses to the last will and testament New York policies to prevent people from taking advantage of a testator. For example, if a testator remarried near the end of their life, but that new spouse was putting undue pressure on them to alter provisions in their will, the installed requirements add a safeguard by ensuring non-benefiting witnesses are the ones overseeing the changes and not the spouse.

Yet, while it is designed to help, it can also cause hurt and frustration for those who are not careful and do not follow the advice of their estate attorney in Brooklyn. For example, let us say you are the one initiating that change of will and you have gathered the people closest to you to witness it. Unfortunately, if any of those witnesses benefit in any way from your alterations, even if it is just with an inexpensive painting or similar gift, that last will and testament can be thrown out.

How Strazzullo Law Firm Can Help

Our Brooklyn estate planning attorney is experienced in handling all matters of estate law, including assisting with probate, building up living trusts, and overseeing a change in a last will and testament New York. Contact our team today to learn more about how best to safeguard your assets for your desired beneficiaries.