Revoking a will
There are several ways of revoking a will. This can happen when the person who made the will intends to revoke it, but there are also some ways that it can happen automatically, by operation of law, even if the person who made the will did not intend to revoke it.
Intentionally revoking a will
A person can always revoke his will while he is alive and has legal capacity. A clause in a will indicating that the will cannot be revoked has no legal effect -- the person who made the will can still revoke the will.
In practical terms, how does one go about revoking a will?
The destruction of the original, signed will, combined with the intention to revoke the will, is a valid means of revoking a will. If a solicitor has drafted your will, or if you have done it yourself on a computer, there may be an electronic version of the will -- so if you intend to revoke a will by destroying it, you might want to ensure that any electronic versions are deleted or amended to reflect the fact that the will is no longer valid.
In addition, it is worth remembering that disputes over wills generally arise after the death of the person who has made the will. So you will probably want to make some record of your intent to revoke the will, such as a revocation clause in a new will (as discussed below) or -- if you are not making a new will -- some other signed, written document indicating that you intended to destroy your will and allow the intestacy rules to apply.
Revocation by a later will
Ordinarily, when a solicitor is drafting a new will for a person, she will include an express revocation clause, indicating that any old wills are revoked by the new will. In fact, even if you intend to keep elements of an old will, it is generally regarded as good practice to produce a new stand-alone document that includes any provisions of an old will that you wish to retain. Remember, it is in the interest of your executors and beneficiaries to have as little ambiguity or confusion as possible in the documentation -- so that they can get on with the administration of the will rather than having to worry about piecing together lots of different documents in order to determine what you intended.
If a new will does not include an express revocation clause, the new will does not revoke and supersede the old will in its entirety. A new will without an express revocation clause does, however, automatically revoke provisions of the old will that are inconsistent with the provisions of the new will.
Marriage -- automatic revocation
If you get married or enter into a civil partnership, then any will that you may have made prior to doing so is automatically revoked. An exception to this rule is a will that you have made in anticipation of the marriage to, or civil partnership with, the particular person involved.
** Divorce or annulment **
On the divorce or annulment of a marriage, or the dissolution of a civil partnership, any gifts to the spouse or civil partner in the will automatically lapse. The rest of the will may continue to be valid, however.
This can have various consequences. For example, if the spouse were to be given a life interest in a particular asset, with the asset to go to another beneficiary on her death, the other beneficiary would immediately get the full interest in the asset when the person who made the will dies -- because the spouse’s life interest in the asset would have lapsed.
Broadly, a person who makes a will can revoke it at any time. A will cannot be made irrevocable. Certain events, such as divorce or the making of a later will, can partially or completely revoke the will by making certain terms of the will ineffective. If a person gets married or enters into a civil partnership, his will is automatically revoked unless it was made in anticipation of the marriage or civil partnership.
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