Working as a Tennessee estate and probate attorney, I get questions from people all of the time regarding some of the basic issues about my field. Many of the people that I talk with are often worried about specific legal technicalities in estate planning. There are a number of seemingly small actions that can have a large legal impact on a person’s legal documents and estate. I am happy to provide people with a basic understanding of the law and what to do to comply with it.
One of the questions I recently received was regarding the revocation of a will. This individual asked, “I have an old will. How do I revoke the will?” Fortunately, this is one of the easier questions that I get asked.
There are a number of ways to revoke a will, but one of the best ways is to create a new will. Often one of the first lines within a will includes a clause that revokes any existing wills or codicils. Upon executing a valid will, this clause thereby revokes any previous will that has already been executed. This can be important if you lose a will and the estate later becomes contested. By having a valid newer will that has revoked any previous wills, the probate court will obviously look to the most recent will in determining how to handle the person’s estate.
If there is a specific reason that you may have for not executing a new will, there are several other ways to simply revoke a will. One of the ways to revoke your will can be to destroy the original will. This can obviously be done in a number of ways including tearing up the will, burning it, or shredding the document. Another way to revoke a will is simply marking on the will so that one could objectively tell that someone sought to revoke the will. One could write “void” or “revoked” on the document. You can also use draft another written document stating your intention to revoke the will.
However, the most important thing to remember when revoking a will is the intent of the testator to actually revoke the will. In other words, it must be your actual intent to revoke your will. If you did not actually intend to revoke your will, the will can still have effect. If you accidentally tore your will in half, the will would not be revoked because you did not intend to revoke your will. However, if you purposefully tore your will specifically intending to revoke your will, the will would obviously be revoked and no longer have legal effect.
The issue of intent can always be a little tricky after the fact. There are ways for the court to try to interpret intent, but it is always best for you as the testator to make your intentions clear. It is very hard for a court to determine if an individual sought to revoke his will if there is not clear evidence. For instance, how much of a will needs to be torn or missing for a court to determine that the testator intended to revoke his or her will?
If you have questions regarding a Tennessee probate or estate issue, contact The Higgins Firm. Our Tennessee probate attorneys would be happy to answer any questions that you may have.