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Can I revoke my will if I change my mind?

You've written your will and were very happy with it at the time. But circumstances change. Maybe you're getting married. Maybe you are disagreeing with a planned beneficiary and want to delete them from your will. Maybe your newborn child must be included in your will. Perhaps a beneficiary has died with no heirs for your bequest to go to - or has died and you don't want to leave anything to your proposed beneficiary's heirs.

But you want to change your will immediately. Can you just cancel, or revoke, your existing will?

Methods of will revocation

You can revoke your will in several ways. Each method requires that your intention to revoke your will must be made very clear to anyone who might want to contest your revocation and follow the terms of the will that you want to revoke.

Destruction of the will. Intentionally destroying the original will revokes it. Damaging or defacing the will without fully destroying it - or merely accidentally destroying the will - will not cause the will to be revoked.

Declaring the will revoked. Revoke your will by making a written declaration that you are revoking your will. The declaration of revocation goes into effect after you and two witnesses sign the declaration.

Creating a new will. Preparing a new will automatically revokes any previous wills. All new wills usually include a revocation clause at the beginning of the new document that revokes the old will to ensure that the old will is nullified.

Dangers of will revocation without preparing a new will

Making a new will is more time-consuming, but it is likely the best way to revoke your will. You are likely to make mistakes when changing a will yourself. It's best to consult a lawyer to write your new will.

If you revoke a will without making a new one, you will be intestate (without a will). Your executor or a court may distribute your assets to people you don't want to receive them  if there is no existing record of what you wanted done with your assets.

The government will distribute your assets if you die intestate

Dying intestate means that others will decide what happens to your assets after your passing. In British Columbia, the law determines how this division will take place. The distribution of your assets is based on the type and number of your relatives still alive after your death. These are the most common dispositions:

  • Spouse but no descendants. Your intestate estate goes to your spouse
  • Spouse and descendants. The spouse gets a greater share of the assets if the descendants descend from both you and your spouse; otherwise, the spouse gets a smaller amount.
  • No spouse but there are living relatives. First to your descendants, if any; otherwise to your parents.

The law specifies how your assets will be distributed in other situations as well.

Will revocation is never automatic

You must consciously act to revoke your will. Your will won't be revoked for any of the following reasons, even though they may be considered catastrophic or extraordinary:

  • Marriage or divorce. Neither revokes a will in British Columbia unless you married before March 31, 2014 and had a will before the marriage.
  • Death. Neither the death of a beneficiary or an executor will revoke a will.
  • Unusual bequests. Even an unusual bequest will not revoke a will, though a court could strike down the unusual bequest depending on its nature.
  • Snubs. A person who thought they would be a beneficiary under the will but was not cannot just ask for the will to be revoked simply because they were not included in it as a beneficiary.

Consider revocation carefully before you act

Revoking your will could have serious consequences. Even if you believe that urgent circumstances compel you to revoke your will immediately, you should consult with estate lawyers who have extensive experience at drafting wills if at all possible. They can advise you whether your concerns leading you to revoke your will are valid, what the consequences of revocation might be, and suggest what you could do to achieve your objectives.

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