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Changing or Cancelling a Will - What you should know

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.