How Can You Change a Will After Someone Has Passed Away?

You may have heard that once a Will has been created and the testator has passed away, it can still be changed by other parties who want to change how assets are being distributed. However, there are several myths around this topic that make it unclear. Can a Will really be changed after someone has passed away?

Changing a Will

Nobody can change a Will once it has been written and signed, apart from the testator. Once they have passed away, the Will cannot be changed by anyone else, contrary to popular myths. However, what people can change after death is the effects of the Will.

For example, if you have left someone a gift of £5,000 in your Will, your beneficiaries and family will not be able to change the Will itself to allow it to go to someone else. However, the gift can be refused, and a legal document can be drawn up to change the effects of the Will. 

There are several ways to change the effects of a Will. 

Deed of Disclaimer 

If someone does not want to accept a gift left to them in a Will but has no stipulations as to where it should go, they might choose to draw up a deed of variation. If it isn’t clear where this gift should go instead, it will be added to the residuary estate, which includes everything left over once gifts, debts, and taxes have been distributed. The testator may have included some residuary beneficiaries in their estate, and the gift would be shared amongst them instead. 

When a person chooses to reject a gift, they do not need permission from the rest of the beneficiaries named. However, shared gifts will need the permission of all beneficiaries involved, and two witnesses need to be there to witness the signature of the deed of disclaimer. 

Once a gift has been accepted, it cannot be refused later on. However, once you have declined your gift, you can change your mind – but only if nobody else is already relying on the gift. 

If you have been left with more than one gift (such as a gift of money and jewellery or possessions), you can refuse some but accept others. You cannot partially refuse a gift – for example, if you receive a gift of £5,000, you would not be able to accept only half of it. 

Deed of Variation  

Also known as a deed of family arrangement, deeds of variation are drawn up when multiple people who stand to inherit from a Will want to make changes. They may want to leave a gift to a different person or think things should be shared differently. 

For a deed of variation to work, everybody affected by the changes must agree to them. The executor will require the deed to show to HMRC so they can change the amount of Inheritance Tax chargeable if necessary. 

You can choose more than one person to pass your gift to, and that person does not have to be named in the original Will. In the cases of shared gifts, if all parties agree, you can all choose how the gift is distributed. Or, if you are the only one who wants to make a change, you can only decide how your share is distributed. 

What Can’t Be Changed in a Will?

Some things cannot be changed in Wills, even with a deed of variation or deed of disclaimer:

  • Removing or changing an inheritance of someone without the consent of the person
  • Removing the executors 
  • Change anyone’s share under eighteen, as they cannot consent to the deed
  • Pass property onto a different person if it’s been done before

Even if someone passes away without a Will, changes to how their estate is distributed can still be made. Under the rules of intestacy, people can still choose to redirect their share to someone else.

Why Change a Will?

There are multiple reasons that you may choose to change a Will after a person passes away:

  • Rejecting inheritance – If someone does not want their share of the inheritance, they may choose to leave it to their children or a charity instead.
  • To share assets equally – If one person has been left less, and the people inheriting want to make things more equal, they can choose to change the Will to distribute items more evenly.
  • To include new people – The Will may not include people born after it was written, like a child or grandchild, so the beneficiaries may choose to include them. 
  • Updating wishes – If someone has spoken about changing their Will but did not do it before they passed away, a deed of variation or deed of disclaimer may be used to make specific changes.
  • Exclusions – Someone may feel that they have been unfairly excluded from the Will or have not been left enough to meet their financial needs. A claim may be made against the estate, and negotiation may occur to determine what assets will go to them. The courts will decide what will happen if an agreement can’t be reached. 
  • Reduce Inheritance Tax – Inheritance Tax (IHT) is charged at a rate of 40%, which means any of the estate over £325,000 (or £500,000 when using the residence nil rate band) will be taxed heavily. However, changing where assets go can help reduce IHT, for example by leaving everything to a spouse or donating 10% of the estate to charity, which lowers IHT to 36%. Alternatively, you may consider passing money over to the children of the people who are inheriting it, which can avoid paying IHT twice on the same asset and reduce the IHT payable on future inheritances. 

Changing a Will can be complex for your loved ones, so create an effective Will today with The Planning Bee. Our legal professionals will advise you on how best to distribute your estate for maximum tax efficiency so you can leave more to your loved ones.

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