Proactive Planning: How to avoid expensive mistakes in a Will

Following the death of Lisa Marie Presley, her mother Priscilla Presley has filed a lawsuit disputing the validity of her daughter’s Will. This is due to irregularities in the making of an amendment in 2016. We look at how to avoid expensive mistakes when amending a Will.

Amending a Will can be tricky and it is important to discuss any changes you wish to make with a qualified expert. If mistakes are made, it is quite possible that your Will could be declared invalid. Therefore your estate will either pass in accordance with your previous Will, if you had one and it was valid, or in accordance with the Rules of Intestacy.

Mistakes in amending a Will

In the case of Lisa Marie Presley, Priscilla Presley is alleging that an amendment made to a living trust document was flawed. The living trust operates as a Will if no separate Will has been made. The document removed Priscilla Presley and Lisa Marie’s former business manager Barry Siegel as co-trustees. Replacing them with Lisa Marie’s daughter Riley Keough and her late son Benjamin Keough.

Priscilla Presley claims that she was not notified of the amendment, as specifically required in the terms of the trust. She also states that her name on the amendment has not been spelt correctly. Also noted was her daughter’s signature was ‘inconsistent with her usual and customary signature’.

The amendment was not witnessed, or notarised and the provisions were not included on the signature page.

Priscilla Presley said in her petition that she intends to continue as a co-trustee. Believing that Riley Keough will become a co-trustee as Barry Siegel will shortly resign.

The risks of not amending a Will properly

The rules surrounding amendments to Wills are strict and it is easy to make a mistake which can cause the whole document to be invalid. A legal dispute could arise if family members have concerns over the validity of amendments. This is also the case if an amendment is ambiguous or conflicts with the contents of the Will. The executors of your Will would be bound to defend this. There is a danger that your estate could end up paying for an expensive legal case.

If your Will is found to be invalid, then your previous Will, if you have one, will take effect. Otherwise, your estate will pass under the Rules of Intestacy. These set out who will inherit in order of preference, starting with your spouse and children. There is a risk that your loved ones could miss out on their inheritance or that they might receive less than you wanted them to have.

Amending a Will

Your Will cannot be amended by writing on it or attaching a further page to it after it has been signed and witnessed. If you want to make a minor change, you can consider making a codicil. This is an official addition to a Will. Writing on your Will or stapling something to it, may make it invalid.

Making a codicil

If the amendments are not substantial ie; you want to add an executor or a legacy, you can make a codicil. This is an ancillary document that will need to be signed and witnessed in the same way as a Will.

While a codicil could in theory be used to make major changes, this is not advisable. There is a risk that a codicil might not be found and proved with the Will when the time comes. There could be some confusion if the changes are substantial.

Making major changes to your Will

If you wish to make substantial changes to your Will, you are strongly advised to have a new Will drafted. Reviewing your will gives you the opportunity to consider all of the provisions and ensure they are still the ones that you want. It also reduces the risk of misunderstandings or of the codicil being lost.

It is recommended that everyone review their Will every five years or in the light of any major changes, such as the birth of a child or change in personal circumstances.

Once you have made a new Will, it supersedes any previous Will.

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