People are taught to hang onto important documents. Every person is instructed to hold onto deeds, mortgages, bank records and tax returns in a safe place where no one else can access them lest important information fall into the wrong hands. But wills, which might be the most important document a person can have, should not be held onto after a new one has been executed, and while it may be a good idea to keep it in a safe place, hiding it like the other documents may have unintended consequences.
There are many ways to revoke an old will and it is always a good idea to do so if you have drafted a new one. The easiest and most common way to revoke a will is to draft a new one and have an explicit clause that revokes any previous wills and codicils that you have executed. Because your new will is dated later than the previous wills, the revocation will be effective.
Technically, physically destroying your old will is not required to revoke it. However it is highly recommended. Having old copies of your will hanging around is simply inviting a future fraud to be committed on your estate. Therefore it is very important to not only physically revoke your will but to also have witnesses be present when you do so. This is typically done right after signing your new will while your witnesses are still present.
Physically revoking your will can take many forms, ranging from partial to total destruction of the actual papers. Physical revocation of your will can be achieved by:
- Tearing up the document
- Burning the papers
- Shredding the papers
More important than physically revoking the document is making sure that any physical revocation is a complete revocation. For example, tearing up one page of your will may not be a complete revocation. Similarly, simply writing void on one page of your will may not have the intended effect of revoking the entire will.
Finally, be careful that your will can be located at the time of your death or you risk accidentally revoking your will. Hiding your will or misplacing it may mean that you die intestate. In New York, the Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act Section 1407 dictates that a lost or misplaced will is presumed to be revoked unless proven otherwise. Because the burden is on the proponent of the lost will to conclusively prove the provisions of the lost will, the state of New York will most likely instead opt to distribute your assets according to intestacy laws, regardless of what you have written down elsewhere.