Can a Will be changed after death?

Aug 8, 2023

If you have inherited money from someone’s estate but you would rather it was given to someone else, you might be wondering if a Will can be changed after death. We take a look at the legal situation.

There are several reasons why someone might want to change the effect of a Will after a death. In some circumstances, it is possible to do this. The options are either:

  • Disclaiming a gift, if you have been left something but do not want to accept it; or
  • Varying who will receive your gift, which means you can say who you want the gift to be passed to

Why would someone want to change the effect of a Will after a death?

There are a range of reasons why someone might want to alter who receives a legacy after a death, including:

  • You want the gift you have been left to go to someone else instead
  • The beneficiaries feel that the estate should have included someone else, so they want to provide an equal share for that person
  • The Will is not up to date and circumstances have changed since it was made, for example, a new grandchild could have been born
  • It may be more tax efficient to change the effect of the Will, for example, passing a legacy directly to a grandchild, instead of to a child and then eventually on to the grandchild so that two lots of Inheritance Tax will be payable
  • The beneficiaries want to leave 10% of the net estate to charity so that the rate of Inheritance Tax is reduced

Disclaiming a gift

If you do not want to accept something that you have been left in a Will, you can disclaim the gift. This must be done within two years of the date of death.

You have to disclaim the whole gift, not part of it. This means that if you have been left a lump sum, you must accept or disclaim the whole sum. If you have been left specific items however, you can choose to accept one but not another. When you disclaim, the gift will pass to the person entitled to inherit it under the terms of the Will. This means that you cannot nominate whom you want to receive it.

Varying the terms of a Will

A beneficiary can execute a deed of variation to vary the effect of the Will. Everyone affected by the changes will need to agree. You will be able to choose whom to give your legacy to. If it was left jointly to you and someone else, they would also need to agree and sign the deed.

Again, this needs to be done within two years of the date of death. It is not possible for someone aged under 18 to agree to any changes that affect them, nor can anyone agree to this on their behalf.

A deed of variation cannot be used to change executors or guardians.

Wills disputes

If a dispute has arisen over the terms of a Will, a deed of variation can be used if the executors and beneficiaries want to settle this.

For example, if someone was left out of the Will but they believe they have a valid claim for reasonable financial provision because they were supported by the deceased, then a deed of variation could be signed giving them a payment, provided the beneficiaries agreed.

Professional advice

Changing the terms of a Will can have tax and other implications and it is important to take legal advice if you are contemplating this. It is also crucial to ensure that any deed of disclaimer or deed of variation is correctly drafted and executed, to avoid any difficulties in the future.

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