Estate Planning

Do Wills Expire? 6 Things To Know

Amanda Dvorak


Suppose it’s been decades since you updated your will. Or you found a deceased relative’s will that was signed long ago and never updated. In either case, you may wonder if a will can expire.

A will does not expire, but it can become outdated if situations in your life change and you don’t update it. It’s best to review your will every three to five years and update it whenever you experience a significant life change to ensure it’s as current as possible.

There are also scenarios where wills can become invalid. Understanding these is important to ensure you don’t unintentionally invalidate your will.

In this article, I’ll discuss:

  • Whether or not wills expire

  • Things that can invalidate a will

  • How to correctly update a will

  • How often you should update a will

Do Wills Expire?

A will does not expire, whether it’s a living will (which outlines your wishes for medical treatment should you become incapacitated) or a last will and testament (which dictates how your assets are divided when you pass away). It can, however, become out of date.

For example, your father may have created his will 30 years ago and never updated it. Therefore, some information in it may no longer be current. He could have sold a piece of property that was mentioned in the will or acquired new property that he didn’t add to it.

But even if a will hasn’t been updated in years, it is considered valid as long as it was created legally. A valid will means:

  • The person who signed it (the testator) was of sound mind.

  • The testator was not coerced or under duress.

  • The testator and everyone else involved followed all state laws when signing the will.

6 Things That Can Make a Will Invalid

Aside from not following state laws or possibly becoming outdated, there are several scenarios in which a will can become invalid.

1. Witnesses Weren’t Present When the Will Was Signed

As mentioned above, everyone involved in creating and signing the will must follow all state laws. Each state has different laws, but one that’s common in most states is that witnesses need to be present.

At least two witnesses who are 18 years of age or older must be present during the signing of a will. They must also sign the will and verify that the testator was of sound mind. Some states require the witnesses to be unbiased (meaning they are not being gifted anything in the will).

If a probate court can determine that the testator signed the will without proper witnesses, it can deem the will invalid.

2. The Will Is Marked Up

After someone passes away, it can be difficult to understand their true wishes if the will has several markups (called interlineations).

For example, if there are several handwritten notes on every page of a typed will, you can’t always determine the testator’s exact wishes. They may have just been brainstorming about what they wanted to change.

You also may be unable to determine if the interlineations were made before or after the testator signed the will. Interlineations made before the will was signed are valid, but it can be difficult to prove when the testator made them.

On the other hand, if the will is holographic (meaning the testator handwrote it), a probate court may deem the interlineations valid if it can verify that the handwriting is the same. Only some states accept holographic wills, however.

3. You Get Divorced

A will is automatically revoked in most states when you get divorced. Even if your ex-spouse never updates their will to remove you from it, state laws dictate that you’re no longer entitled to receive anything they may have left to you.

4. Your Spouse Tried To Write You Out of Their Will

Most states’ laws prevent spouses from writing the other person entirely out of their will. If they tried to, a probate court could deem the will invalid.

5. You Have a Prenup

Having a prenup doesn’t invalidate but can override one. If there are conflicts between the two, a probate court will generally accept a prenup over a will.

The only time a will would take precedence is if the court can prove that the spouses didn’t enter into the prenup knowingly and voluntarily.

6. You Only Have a Copy of the Original Will

Probate courts generally only consider the original will valid. Copies don’t always hold up in court because it can be difficult to prove what happened to the original.

For example, a deceased family member could have given copies of their will to multiple family members and later destroyed the original but didn’t destroy all the copies. But it’s also possible that an upset family member not included in the will destroyed the original out of spite.

Therefore, the probate court will often assume the testator destroyed the original if you cannot find it.

How To Update a Will

Even though your will won’t expire, there may come a time when you want to revoke and update it. Aside from destroying it (i.e., shredding it, tearing it up, or burning it), there are other ways you can update an old will.

1. Create a New Will

Creating a new will effectively revokes the old one since the most current version would take precedence in probate court. You may need the help of an attorney to create a new one, but your state’s laws will dictate the steps you need to take to write a new will correctly.

2. Create a Codicil

A codicil is a document that acts as an addendum to a pre-existing will. You don’t necessarily need an attorney to create a codicil, but two witnesses (ideally those who are not beneficiaries) must sign it.

The codicil also needs to be kept with the original will, and it’s helpful to have it verified and stamped by a notary.

3. Create a Personal Property Memorandum

A personal property memorandum is similar to a codicil., However, your original will must have referenced a personal property memorandum if you wish to utilize one. In most states, you don’t need an attorney or witnesses to create a personal property memorandum.

However, only some states recognize personal property memorandums as legally binding.

How Often Should You Update Your Will?

A will isn’t something you have to change often. Review it every three to five years to ensure you’re still satisfied with the beneficiaries you name and what they will receive when you pass.

It’s also a good idea to update your will whenever you experience a major life change. Examples include:

  • Getting married or divorced

  • Having a new child or grandchild

  • The death of a beneficiary

  • Acquiring new assets not listed in your original will

You can also update your will if you change your mind about what you want to leave a family member or wish to disinherit someone.

Keep Your Will Safe and Up-to-date With Trustworthy

Your will won’t expire, but incorrectly updating it can cause confusion and result in your assets not being distributed the way you want after you pass away. Consulting with an estate attorney can help ensure you don’t inadvertently invalidate your will when you update it.

If you’ve made many changes to your will, it’s also best to keep the most current version with any codicils or addendums in one place. Trustworthy’s digital storage system can help keep your files organized and secure.

This way, you can easily locate old versions of these files and reference them when you want to update them. Your family members will also know exactly where to find your will if you pass away.

Find out if Trustworthy is right for you with a 2-week free trial.

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