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Legal Matters: Technology simplifies process of revising or creating will

Of course, you can revise your will, and re-revise it as often as you like. Old fiction plots document a revised will as the revenge of an elder on his family members. WikiHow tells you how to do DIY alterations to reflect changes in your original intent.

But a note of caution on doing your own will alterations. You cannot just cross out lines in a printed will and expect that changes you have written in are going to be honored. Even worse, that action may invalidate the entire will.

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But there are a couple of ways to deal with changes you want to make, and the process does not have to be terribly complicated. One answer is to make a new will. Another is to keep the original, but incorporate a codicil reflecting simple changes you want, such as adding a beneficiary or appointing a different executor.

It used to be a time-consuming task to change a will. But the process has become simpler to revise a will or make a new one, sign it and have it witnessed now that computers are part of our lives. Important: you need to make sure the revised version states that it is your intent to revoke any earlier wills. In case an earlier version survives without your changes, and someone uses it to challenge your more recent will, you want to make sure your revised version is the one that is used to divide your estate.

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The easiest way to make revisions in an existing will – if it is saved on a computer – is to go into the file, edit sections you wish to change, then print the revised document. The good news is that you don’t have to retype the whole document. But the revised document must be signed in front of witnesses – in Maryland, two witnesses – just as the original will was. And you should destroy any copies of the older will to avoid questions about which is valid.

If your will is typewritten, you may be able to make the changes you want by typing a codicil – an addition that explains, modifies or revokes part of an existing will – having it signed in front of witnesses and attaching it to the original document. If the changes are too extensive to cover in a codicil, it will be necessary to revise the will, incorporating the changes and having the revised document witnessed.

Revoking a clause in a will and substituting a new clause is generally done by codicil. But depending on the action, you may just add a new provision. For example, if you want to change a recipient of property, you may just write a new provision, such as, “I hereby revoke the provision of Clause 2, by which I left my vintage Cadillac to my brother, Joe Schmoe. I add the following provision: I leave my vintage Cadillac to my niece, Jennifer Darling.”

Donna Engle is a retired Westminster attorney. Her Legal Matters column, which provides legal information but not legal advice, appears on the second and fourth Sunday each month in Life & Times. Email her at denglelaw@gmail.com.

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