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How to Revoke A Will in New York State

Hands tearing paper sheet

{Read in 3 Minutes}  As a Trust and Estates attorney, I frequently write Wills for people. This is a process I very much enjoy, and the client and I spend a significant amount of time talking about the contents of this Will. What are their assets? Who should inherit what? Who should be the Executor? Who should be the children’s guardian? Are they charitably inclined, et cetera? The result of this process is a very, very tailored document that we have collaborated on to fit the client’s needs exactly.

Guess what? Clients’ needs and perspectives change. For example, maybe the client has gotten divorced, or the client has become a parent, or the client has had a major falling out with one of the beneficiaries that they now want to disinherit completely. They are not stuck with this Will. They can update it or revoke it as much as they would like. As the name suggests, only your LAST Will and Testament counts. So, how do they do this? New York law provides three simple ways that someone may revoke a Will: 

1. Write a new Will

When a client makes a new Will, it automatically revokes the client’s prior Will. Note that it must be an entirely new Will. More than handwritten corrections to your existing Will, or a Codicil, is required.

2. Separate writing “revoking” the Will

The client can sign a new document that simply references the date of the old Will and states that they hereby revoke it. They must sign this document with the same formalities for executing a Will in New York State. This also includes having two disinterested people serve as witnesses.

3. Doing something to the physical copy of the Will that indicates revocation

Per the statutes, this may be “An act of burning, tearing, cutting, cancellation, obliteration or other mutilation.” (These words always make me chuckle. If you figure out how to “obliterate” a legal document, let me know. Please. I have this image in my head of someone firing a nuclear missile at a piece of paper…)

This can be done simply by tearing up the original Will or writing the word VOID or REVOKED across every page of the Will to make it very clear. Simply cutting the corners on one page may not be sufficient to revoke the whole document. Again, clarity is king. The Court needs to consider your intent.

If you choose the second or third option, meaning you either revoke the Will in writing or destroy the existing Will without writing a new one, you die intestate. This means that the people who inherit are your next-of-kin, which also controls who will be the Administrator. This may be what some people would like anyway. You may not even need a Will. But just be sure. For more information on this topic, please, contact me.