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Rip it up and start again? How to safely revoke or change your Will

So you want to make some pretty major changes to your Will? No problem – but the key is making sure you do it in a legally safe way – as a recent case highlights.

The family of Mrs Agnes Moore, who died in 2016 aged 81, ended up in the High Court after her daughter argued her mum had purposefully torn up and destroyed her Will, known as ‘revoking’, whilst her son in law contested it had simply been lost.

The difference between destroyed and lost, of course, was the difference between who did and did not inherit from Mrs Moore’s estate.

In the end, the judge decided that though the original will could not be traced, a certified copy had been found in Mrs Moore’s possessions and therefore it was appropriate that her estate should be shared out as outlined in that copy.

But not before significant legal expenses had been run up on both sides of the dispute, not to mention upset, stress and no doubt many family arguments.

Details

Mrs Moore’s Will said her estate was to be divided equally between her three children – Mrs Gail Blyth, Mr William Moore, Mrs Debbie Sykes and her former husband, Leslie Sykes.

As with many Wills, the default position was that if any of these beneficiaries died before Mrs Moore, then their share of the estate would be divided equally between their children.

Debbie did indeed die before her mother in 2015 meaning, in accordance with the Will, Mrs Moore’s estate would instead be distributed between Mrs Blyth, Mr Moore, Mr Sykes and the Sykes’ children.

Tensions

Tensions began to rise after Mrs Blyth said her mother had torn up her Will after Debbie died with the intention to revoke it because she did not want any part of her estate to go to Debbie’s children.

What she actually wanted, according to Mrs Blyth, was for everything to be divided equally between her, her brother and Mr Sykes with whom Mrs Moore had remained in contact despite the fact that he and Debbie had separated many years earlier.

The trouble was, if Mrs Moore had revoked the Will she would have died intestate meaning that Mrs Blyth, Mr Moore and Debbie’s children would each get a third of the estate whilst Mr Sykes would get nothing.

And Mr Sykes argued that the original Will had not been revoked but simply lost so its terms still stood and he should still get a quarter share.

What did the judge say?

Because Mrs Moore’s original Will was never found, but a certified copy was discovered in her belongings, Judge Andrew Saffman took the view that the original must have remained with Mrs Moore’s solicitors, although they had no record of retaining it, something he was extremely critical of.

Because of this, he said he couldn’t be happy that the original Will had been in Mrs Moore’s possession – and it is an original Will that must be destroyed to prove that person intended to revoke it – so he ordered that the estate should be shared out as the copy of the Will detailed.

Revoking your Will – get it right

Many people make a Will and then, when their life circumstances change for whatever reason, quite naturally, want to change it.

You can revoke a Will, which means it is no longer legally valid, in one of three ways:

  • Make an entirely new Will;
  • Declare in writing that you intend to revoke your Will which must be signed and witnessed in the same way as when you make a Will;
  • Destroy your Will, for example rip it up or burn it but it is vital to ensure it is totally obliterated with nothing left that could be potentially reassembled into a document later. You must do this yourself or it must be destroyed in your presence.

When major changes are planned, taking professional legal advice and making an entirely new Will is advisable and any brand new Will should start with a clause stating that it revokes all previous Wills and codicils.

For more information, please see Why should I Make or revise my Will. Wards Solicitors will safely store your original Will for you. There is no charge for this service and no production fee.

For more advice about making or updating your Will, please contact Wards Solicitors’ Wills, Probate and Mental Capacity team. If you want to contest a Will, please contact our Probate Disputes team.

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