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Correcting My Will, Trust, Power of Attorney, Advance Directive, and Other Legal Documents

So, you’ve completed your estate planning documents. You carefully reviewed them. They were duly signed and witnessed and you’ve got them in a safe place. But then you and your spouse were talking and you’ve decided that one of the gifts you put into your Will is now a bad choice. You had given a bequest of $25,000 to each of your 3 nephews but one of them, Sam, has a recurring problem with drug use and you’ve become convinced that he will not ever get his act together and anything you leave to him with be used within days for drugs.

You pull out your Will and see the entry: “I give my nephew, Samuel Goodguy, $25,000.00, if he is living thirty days after my death.” So, thinking this is a simple change but wanting to signal your displeasure, you cross off the $25,000.00 and insert $10.00 initial the change and put a date by your initials. Satisfied, you put the Will back into your lockbox.

Legally, what you have just done requires witnesses. Since you did this by yourself and there were no witnesses the change is no good. But more importantly, you’ve just put the validity of the entire Will into question and set up the possibility for litigation years down the line when you die.

And, for other legal documents that require witnesses similar changes create similar validity questions.


I am primarily an estate and trust litigation lawyer. The example above is not unusual in my experience. People who do their own legal work like this to save a few dollars, create problems that raise their ugly heads after they’ve died. The end result is often litigation among the heirs that ends up costing thousands and sometimes tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

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