The rules around both making and cancelling a Will are very particular.
There are a number of ways a will can be ‘revoked’ (the legal phrase for ‘cancel’) – some intentional, some perhaps not! Here, we take a look at what does and does not cancel a Will. And, we also examine the often overlooked issue of wills in more than one jurisdiction.
The main ways in which we will revoke a will are:
- make a new will
- destroy it
- divorce (in part at least)
Although not ‘cancelling’ our will, our relatives may discover after we die leaving a will we thought was valid, but in fact it never was! This would include circumstances like:
- signature/execution – will wasn’t signed properly
- compos mentis – we were not of sound mind when we made the will
- duress – we were forced to make the will against our wishes
- gifts and appointments fail – for example if we have not included enough future proofing and the named executors and beneficiaries all died with or before us
How does making a Will revoke my old Will?
A correctly drafted will should always address the question of cancelling others (wills). With the exception of where you have wills in other jurisdictions (see below), that will always be to cancel or revoke your previous wills.
Check out our article on revocation clauses
Should I destroy my old Will after I make a new one?
Yes! It is good practice to always destroy old wills so that your executors are in no doubt about which is your ‘last will and testament’.
If you destroy a will without making a new one, it simply has the effect of revoking that existing will, and thereby leaving you potentially ‘intestate’ (to die without a will). The law would then decide who got your estate, not you (as you would have no will).
Does Marriage cancel my Will?
Yes, marriage cancels a will, unless you make it in ‘contemplation of marriage’. It cancels the whole will (unlike divorce), and so it is very important to think about your will when you get married (particularly so perhaps for those who are remarrying)?
Check out our article on how marriage cancels a Will.
Does Divorce cancel my Will?
No – divorce does not cancel a will, it simply removes those elements that refer to the then ex-spouse. This would include:
If the will has made substitute provisions for some or all of the above, then those provisions will apply. Unlike marriage, divorce does not cancel the entire will.
How do I cancel a Letter of Wishes?
A letter of wishes is just that – an expression of wishes, and not a legally binding document. Wills are made and cancelled in a very particular way dating back to law passed in 1837 (The Wills Act). Those rules apply only to wills, with no similar rules applying to your letter of wishes.
What about if I have more than one Will?
If you have assets abroad (as well as the UK) then there is every likelihood that you will have more than one will. This creates a particular anomaly. Wills abroad will invariably also have something akin to the notion of ‘revocation’ as per the rules here in the UK. And so, it is important where you have a ‘foreign’ will that it does not inadvertently cancel your UK will, or vice versa.
Free wills Guide
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