Does a New Will Cancel an Old Will in the UK?

Creating a will, also known as a testamentary document, is an essential part of estate planning, allowing individuals to outline their wishes regarding the distribution of their assets after their passing. However, circumstances may change over time, leading individuals to reconsider the provisions in their existing wills. In such cases, it is common for people to wonder if a new will automatically cancels an old will in the United Kingdom. In this article, we will explore this question in detail, examining the legal implications and providing insights into the process of revoking or amending a will.

Does a New Will Cancel an Old Will in the UK?

One common question that arises when individuals consider creating a new will is whether it automatically cancels an old will in the United Kingdom. Let’s delve into this question and shed light on the legal implications involved.

The Principle of Revocation

In the UK, the principle of revocation of will governs the relationship between an old will and a new will. Generally, when an individual creates a new will, the provisions of the old will are considered revoked or cancelled. This means that the new will takes precedence, and its instructions regarding the distribution of assets will be followed.

Revoking a Will Intentionally

Creating a new will is the most common way to intentionally revoke an old will. By drafting a new will, individuals express their updated wishes and intentions regarding the distribution of their estate. However, it is important to ensure that the new will meets the legal requirements for will validity to avoid any potential challenges.

Unintentional Revocation

It is essential to note that revocation can also occur unintentionally in certain circumstances. For example, if an individual marries or enters into a civil partnership, any existing wills are automatically revoked, unless they were made in contemplation of that specific event. This is intended to account for the significant life changes that occur with marriage or civil partnerships and encourage individuals to review and update their wills accordingly.

Revocation by Physical Destruction

Another way to revoke an old will is through physical destruction. If an individual deliberately tears, burns, or obliterates the old will with the clear intention of revoking its provisions, it is considered revoked. Accidental damage or destruction is generally not sufficient to revoke a will, as the intention to revoke must be evident.

Revocation by Written Document

In addition to creating a new will or physically destroying the old will, individuals can also revoke a will by drafting a separate written document specifically stating their intention to revoke the old will. This revocation document should be signed, dated, and witnessed in the same manner as a will. To avoid any confusion, it is advisable to clearly reference the old will in the revocation document.

Revoking a Joint Will

In the case of a joint will (by which we mean “mirror Wills” expressing an agreement not to revoke of change them), which is typically made by spouses or civil partners, the revocation process may differ. If one party wishes to revoke the joint will, they must follow specific legal requirements. A joint will can only be revoked by mutual agreement or by a subsequent valid will made by both parties. If only one party attempts to revoke the joint will unilaterally, it may result in complications and potential legal challenges in probate court.

Amending a Will

Sometimes, individuals may not wish to revoke an entire will but rather make changes or amendments to certain provisions. In such cases, the process of amendment, also known as a codicil, can be used. A codicil is a separate document that modifies specific parts of an existing will while leaving the rest intact. It must comply with the same legal requirements as a will and be signed and witnessed accordingly.

It’s worth noting that the process of amending a will through a codicil can sometimes lead to complications. Multiple codicils can be challenging to interpret and may result in conflicting instructions. Therefore, it is advisable to seek legal advice when considering amendments to ensure clarity and avoid potential disputes around inheritance law.

Consulting a Professional

Given the legal complexities and potential implications of revoking or amending a will, it is highly advisable to consult a legal professional specializing in wills and estates. They can provide expert guidance based on your specific circumstances, ensuring that your intentions are properly executed and your assets are distributed according to your wishes.

Make Sure Your Will is Valid

In the United Kingdom, a new will generally revokes an old will, unless there are specific circumstances or conditions in place. Revoking a will can be done by creating a new will, physically destroying the old will, or drafting a revocation document. Alternatively, individuals can make amendments to their will through a codicil. Regular review and updating of your will are essential to ensure that it accurately reflects your current wishes. Seeking professional advice from a solicitor specializing in wills and estates is recommended to navigate the legal intricacies of revoking or amending a will effectively.

If you’re unsure about the validity of an existing will, or would like to make a claim to contest the contents of a will, our experts at Will Claim can help. To learn more, get in touch with us today or fill out our free claim assessment and we’ll be in touch.