Change or cancel a will

What are my rights?

Can I change my will after I've made it?
  • Yes
  • No

You can change or cancel your will at any time. Learn what's involved in changing or cancelling a will.

During the coronavirus pandemic

Are you making changes to your will during the current coronavirus pandemic? In preparing or updating your will during coronavirus, we walk you through important things to consider at this time. As well, we provide tips for how to sign and witness a will safely.

What you should know

You can make changes to a will

You should consider updating your will whenever your circumstances or wishes change. You can prepare a new will at any time. Or you can make changes to the existing one by signing a separate document, called a codicil

For the changes to be legal, you must understand the nature and consequences of the proposed changes. Generally this means you must understand:

  • The nature and effect of the codicil and how it changes the will.

  • In a general way, the extent of the property you own that can be distributed through the will and codicil.

  • How property will be distributed.

  • The implications for the people who are to receive property.

  • The legal and moral claims of other people you haven’t named who may have an interest. For example, if you leave your child out of the will, do you appreciate the effect of that decision?

Your capability can be affected by illness, an accident, or drug treatment.

You can cancel your will

You can revoke, that is cancel, your will. You could simply destroy the original will, with the intention of cancelling it. However, it is better to make a written declaration revoking your will. You must be mentally capable of understanding the nature and consequences of cancelling your will.

A new will normally cancels any previous will

If you write a new will, this will normally cancel any will that you’ve previously made. Even so, it’s common practice to include a revocation clause at the beginning of a will:

“I hereby revoke all my prior wills and codicils.” 

Getting married or divorced generally doesn’t cancel a will

Getting married does not cancel a will. The exception is if you married before March 31, 2014, and made a will before you got married. If the exception applies, your will was cancelled when you got married (unless the will said it was made in contemplation of your marriage).

What about divorce or separation? If you had a spouse at the time you made your will, and later separated from them, your will is treated as if your spouse died before you. So your will is still valid, but any gift you left to your former spouse won’t be recognized. As well, if you named your former spouse as your executor, the appointment would no longer be effective. The rest of the instructions in your will can be followed.

Steps to change your will

Step 1. Put your wishes in writing

You can prepare a new will at any time. 

Or you can change the existing one by signing a separate document, called a codicil. To be legal, the codicil has to meet the same requirements as a will. For example, it must be in writing, dated, and signed by you and two witnesses. You don’t have to use the same two witnesses you used for your will. The codicil must refer to the will (and previous codicils) it’s amending. 

Step 2. Give your executor a copy of the new will or codicil

Give your executor a copy of the new will or codicil. If you prepared a codicil, attach a copy of the original will to the codicil.

If you chose a new executor, let your old executor know that you no longer need their services. 

You may wish to talk to family members or beneficiaries about any major changes in your wishes.

Step 3. Register the new will or codicil

If you’ve written a new will or changed it with a codicil, you can file a new wills notice with the wills registry to register the change.

Steps to cancel your will

Step 1. Put your wishes in writing

If you simply wish to cancel your will (without preparing a new one), make a written declaration revoking your will. This document must be signed the same way you signed your will — by you with two witnesses looking on and signing it themselves.

You can also cancel your will by preparing a new one. To make it clear that you’re cancelling your old will, include a revocation clause at the beginning of a will:

“I hereby revoke all my prior wills and codicils.” 

Step 2. Give your executor a copy of any new will

Give your executor a copy of a new will, if you prepared one. If you chose a new executor, let your old executor know that you no longer need them to act.

You may wish to talk to family members or beneficiaries about any major changes in your wishes.

Step 3. Register the new will, if any

If you’ve prepared a new will, you can file a new wills notice with the wills registry to register the change.

Who can help

With changing a will

Notaries Public
A notary public can help with making most types of wills.
Access Pro Bono Wills Clinic
Help for low-income people over 55 and those with terminal illnesses in preparing a will.
UBC Law School's Student Advice Program
Clinics offer free help preparing certain types of simple wills to qualifying clients.
Self-Counsel Press
Publisher of do-it-yourself guides on legal topics, including some guides on preparing a will in Canada.

  • Reviewed in April 2020
  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Time to read: 4 minutes

Reviewed for legal accuracy by

Stephen Hsia, Fasken

Stephen Hsia

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