Morris & Morris, A Law Corporation - Estate Planning

What should you do with an old will?

You wrote a will 15 years ago or so, and it addressed your needs at the time. Those needs have changed a lot in the last decade and a half. You have more assets. With the birth of grandchildren, you have more potential beneficiaries. Some of the things in your older will may not even apply, such as leaving specific assets to people you know no longer want or need them.

You decide, wisely, that it's time to update your will. You draft another one. What should you do with that old document? Keeping it safe was so important for so long, giving your family the assurance they needed, but now it's invalid and useless. What do you do?

Destroy the will

Most of the time, if you draft a new will, the law requires you to destroy the old one. Run it through the paper shredder in your office and dispose of it. Throw it into the fireplace that night, after you get the new will done. Just get rid of it in some fashion that is permanent so that you know no one is going to produce it in the future.

Why should you do this?

The reason to destroy the old will is to head off any potential confusion and any disputes after your death. If your heirs have two wills, they may argue over which one is valid.

For instance, maybe you chose one of your children as the estate executor. They try to move forward with the old will, which they accidentally discovered. Another child produces the new will and claims that it is actually the one with legal precedence.

That's true, but you're setting your family up for a complicated situation. What if the executor refuses to acknowledge the new will and the family has to legally challenge them in court? What if the executor thinks that the "new" will is actually a forgery that someone created to steal a portion of your estate?

To some degree, it doesn't matter what is right or true in a situation like this. It's not as simple as saying that the new will voids the old one. It does, but the process of having your family work that out can be long and complicated without you there to tell them what you want and which will they should follow. It can lead to disagreements that damage relationships for life.

The proper legal steps

You can, of course, avoid these issues by taking all of the proper legal steps up front. Make sure you are well aware of what you need to do and how to set things up for the best possible future for your family.

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