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Changing a Will Just Before Death: Tips for Executors and Beneficiaries

by | Nov 19, 2019 | Probate | 23 comments

Changing a will just before death happens more often than you might think. A lot of questions can arise when a person chooses to change their Will in their last moments of life. You may want to know if the changes are valid and what they mean to the executor and beneficiaries involved. “Deathbed” Wills are often just as valid as any other. 

Are the Changes Valid?

Was the inheritance you were expecting suddenly changed? As an executor, will you be required to enforce the changes or are you free to act according to the previous version? If the changes are valid, then executors and beneficiaries alike must abide by the new version. 

To change a Will, the old Will must be revoked. This can be done by including a statement in the new Will. It must state that all previous versions of the Will are now invalid. 

Wills can also be changed by adding an amendment, called a codicil. These allow portions of the Will to be revoked and additions 

For changes to a Will to be valid, they must be signed, dated, and witnessed. 

What If the Deceased Was Not in Sound Mind?

There’s nothing like impending death to cause emotional reactions. It’s not surprising when a beneficiary or executor suspects that any changes made weren’t done soberly. Even a person with dementia may have the wherewithal to make valid changes to his or her Will. It all depends on whether the person had testamentary capacity. 

Testamentary capacity means that the person can understand the implications of the changes being made. Anyone who suspects that the deceased did not have this capacity when the Will was changed would have to file a Will contest to get the changes invalidated. They would have the burden of proving that there is just cause for suspicion and further investigation. 

It happens that some beneficiaries, and even executors, are shocked at the reading of the Will. What they thought it said and what they hear at the reading are two different things. Still, even in the last moments of life, a person might make valid changes to his or her Will.

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23 Comments

  1. Will Moran

    there was a late change in a will which removes me from receiving my wife’s share of her inheritance and its going directly to my teenage children. Massachusetts.

    Reply
    • DanZee

      In Mass, a spouse cannot be completely disinherited. Your wife has to leave you something. You will need a lawyer to attack the will and attempt to throw it out. If you throw out the will, you should be able to recover 1/3 of her estate.

      Reply
  2. Shaylo montgomery

    My stepmother change my dad’s will seven days before he passed away and it was not in a sound mind

    Reply
    • Janielle Nathan

      My brother is dying very soon. He is demanding title to my home before ge dies so his wife can have more assets. I nuilt my home 50 years ago and have lived in it the entire time. If i don’t sign my title to him can he change his will to exclude me?

      Reply
    • DanZee

      You will need a lawyer to get the will thrown out. The judge will hold a hearing and your lawyer can present witnesses to testify to your dad’s state of mind when the change was made.

      Reply
    • Alexis Marie matthews

      My step grandmother kids changed my grandpas will when he was on death bed he couldn’t talk or move the hospital sent him home to die my mother and his dead brother were the only ones on that old will I seen it my grandpa told me to not tell my grandma no matter what and she gave all her 8 kids my grandpa stuff and money and my grandpa daughter my mom didn’t get anything what can I do to help

      Reply
  3. Jamie

    If the owner of the will is still alive can the owner of the will and the executor make changes to the will without the person named second on the will’s knowledge?

    Reply
    • DanZee

      The writer of the will can make any changes they want to a will up until their death. You do not have to be notified what those changes are until the person dies and the will is read. But if you think the executor is pressuring the person to make changes, you might want to talk to a lawyer to see what your options are. A sternly worded lawyer’s letter might put the executor on notice that they’re being scrutinized.

      Reply
      • Tracy Roubidoux Fletcher

        My mom passed away last November after a lengthy illness. Her sister was POA and within two months of her death she drafted a document to change the will my mom has created a couple of years prior. The changes removed me as a beneficiary to her largest asset. Not sure what I can do about this matter legally

        Reply
    • Debbie

      My mom has dementia, Even though my brother and I are both on the will, he hates me and talks mom into changing the will so that I get very little. What can I do??

      Reply
  4. Carol

    Living children were to receive an inheritance then upon deathbed mom wrote out that she wanted all to be left to youngest brother. Previous will was not revoked, she did not sign it and did not have 2 witnesses and she also had dementia

    Reply
  5. Graham Dodd

    My late Mother passed in 2020 , 22 months ago , she was at this time weak and was being looked after by one of her grandchildren , as I live in Spain (I being her son) my ex wife and my daughter had been looking after her for over 7 and half years , thill my ex became ill with Cancer , when my Mother was told she could no longer look after her she was not pleased, on her passing I was told that the grandchild was the Executor and had complete control , I to this day was not allowed to see any of her documents ore bank statements , Mother also changed her will 3 Months before her passing , I along with my step brother owned one there’d of her house , Mother also changes the entitlement , IE if one passes the property passes half and half ,I was not informed of this and complained to Mothers solicitor who said well it a grey era , I only had one there’d of the property . I am of the opinion that Mother had been giving away moneys to these grandchildren David Mohammed and Rachel Boot. just before her passing as I did ask her about it , she said well a little . No one else benefitted from her will , My ex who had worked hard in looking after her day and nigh and my daughter what has a very busy work schedule.

    Reply
  6. william beck

    Can I remove my children from my living trust including them not getting my home which is in trust to them?
    Thank You

    Reply
  7. Cindy

    My uncle changed his will and signed his house off over two days before he died to his house keeper

    Reply
  8. nicole

    My adult daughters got my mom to change her will excluding me then they abandoned her and she was found dead three weeks later

    Reply
  9. D.S. E.G.

    My son passed in 10/2022. While he was incapacitated, drugged and out of it, his new wife wrote a will and had her brother and his wife sign as witnesses. She had a family friend notarize this will. He did not initial and sign the will. I’m not sure who did the signing. After my son passed, that afternoon, she told nobody. I was the Executor and a Trustee on the original will. On the Life Insurance, I was named as Trustee and Beneficiary. The wife left me off the new will she made that day. She put herself as Executor. I didn’t find out anything until after she got her lawyer to take her to file her will in probate. I am wanting to do what’s right and see to it my 2 granddaughters get what their father, my son, directed as his wishes. I don’t know what I should do. Can I do anything?

    Reply
    • Preston Wilson

      To make a valid Will, you must be mentally competent to understand your property and the “objects of your bounty.” If you are not, or are subject to “undue influence” even if mentally competent, the Will could be found to be invalid. The situation described here raises questions as to both your son’s competence when he signed the Will (if he did), and whether he was subjected to “undue influence” in making his Will. A Will can be challenged in a “will contest” in the appropriate court. However, it is very likely that there is a time limit to contest the Will. In Tennessee, it is 2 years from the date the Will is admitted to probate. If a Will is held to be invalid, that could either revive a prior Will or cause the probate estate to be treated as if there were no Will at all.

      Reply
  10. Lynda Fowler

    My vindictive Aunt recently passed away and at the last minute, wrote my mom (her sister) completely out of the will. She said, “well, it could have ALL been yours if you’d gotten in touch once an while”… She then (the sister) rewrote her will with pencil and decided to give money to cousins who she never saw or spoke to, gave her new Mercedes to the neighbor, and whatever was left to some unknown tele-church for the bulk sum of $300,000 for them.
    Their father build the house she was living in rent-free since 1949, so she decided to pull a couple of reverse mortgages out on it, and whatever was supposedly left after all the money and the church got their share, that was to go to my Mom. Of course, after paying this “church”, there was absolutely nothing left for her sister, my mom. As far as the family was concerned, since the Father built the house, after he passed away, it was signed over to his wife, my grandma. This sister coerced her mother to sign all the deeds and documents over to her and none to her sister (my mom) taking full possession of the house rent free and gave nothing to her sister or neices. Just random cousins across the country and some fly by night televangelist.

    My mom and I ended up flying out there and cleaning up the estate (which was by now in ‘hoarder’ phase) separated important paperwork from garbage, etc.

    I have a feeling that that’s just the way it goes and my mom got screwed out of her inheretance that was her father and mother’s. Just out of curiosity, is there any way to fight any of this? I feel so terrible for my mom, being the last of the family and her rotten sister just edging her out.

    Reply
    • Preston Wilson

      The first question here would appear to be whether the hand written Will (Holograph Will) is valid and revokes the sister’s prior Will. Holographic Wills are valid in Tennessee. That may or may not be true in the state where your aunt resided and wrote her Will. If not, then it should be invalid and her prior Will would still be her Will. The next questions would be whether she was mentally competent or subject to “undue influence” when she wrote her Will, per my comments previously on this topic. The fact that she wrote it in pencil may or may not be a factor in deciding whether either of these conditions existed. And it opens the door the possibility of changes in the Will after your aunt completed the Will. If there are erasures in the pencil written holograph Will, that could be a factor for invalidating that Will.

      Reply
  11. Lynda Campbell

    My mother made a will and her attorney retired but her will is still at office. No one has claimed it. However the will that was filed was dated five days prior to her death but she hadn’t left the house in 15 days and was to sick and weak to even talk on telephone. My oldest sister is executor. Her daughter got my mother’s house and all contents and car and property and grandchildren got money stated in will. Mothers signature look a little like hers but two signatures on will look different. What should I do?

    Reply
  12. Lynda Campbell

    The executor of mothers will has written over 100, 000.00 dollars worth of inheritance checks a month before she signed the will. She has been spending money right and left. What would happen if she got caught. It is in Kentucky, a CommonWealth State.

    Reply
    • Preston Wilson

      You need to talk to good Kentucky probate lawyer asap. I sounds like you sister could be stealing from the estate and that the Will that was filed may be invalid.

      Reply
  13. Kelton Pfeffer

    Dealing with the legalities of estate distribution can be challenging. I’m wondering if there’s a standard timeframe for how long the executor has to pay the beneficiaries. Any information or experiences you can share would be valuable

    Reply

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