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Want to Make Changes to Your Will in South Carolina? Read This First
We’ve stressed before on this blog why it’s important to have a last will and testament and why you need to keep it up to date. Not doing so can mean that your wishes aren’t carried out, which can lead to drawn out litigation and cause strife between family members and heirs.
It’s also important to make any changes to your will in a way that is valid and legally recognized. Here’s the right way to amend your will – and what happens if you don’t.
How to Correctly Amend Your Will in South Carolina
When you make your last will and testament, South Carolina code states that it must be signed by you (or by someone else in your name, in your presence and at your direction) and two individuals who either witnessed you signing it or your acknowledgement of signing it.
If you want to revoke your will entirely, you can do that either by getting a new one that contradicts the old one or by physically destroying the old one with the intent of revoking it.
However, if you want to make changes to just a section or two, you have to amend it. This requires a codicil, which is a legal document that amends specific parts of the will but leaves the rest as is. A codicil has the same requirements as the will in order for it to be valid: your signature and the signature of two witnesses.
Handwritten Changes Don’t Count
You may wonder whether you can simply strike out a clause in your will and/or make handwritten notes in order to change it. For example, let’s say you want to give your niece $20,000 instead of $10,000, or you want to cut out your nephew entirely.
The answer is no.
A recent case, filed by the South Carolina Court of Appeals in April 2019, centered around this issue. William D. Paradeses died in January 2016, leaving a will dated October 2008. The will was submitted to the probate court and was found to contain handwritten changes. Item IV(2), which would have given Faye Greeson (Eleanor Glisson) $50,000, was struck out, with the handwritten note “Omit #2 W.D. Paradeses” next to it. This led to a disagreement between family members over whether or not the handwritten changes – which were not witnessed – were valid.
The probate court said no, and the Court of Appeals agreed. It stated that this was an attempt at a codicil but didn’t meet the standards of a properly executed codicil, and therefore was invalid. The $50,000 bequest stands.
The lesson here is simple: if you want to make changes to your will, do it by correctly executing a codicil with witnesses, ideally after consulting with an estate planning attorney.
Written Memoranda: An Exception
There is an exception worth noting here. In South Carolina, you can include language in your will that allows for written memoranda. This is a document that’s in addition to the will that doesn’t require the signature of witnesses to be valid. However, it must either be written in the testator’s handwriting or signed by the testator.
The key point is that written memoranda only allows for the dispersal of tangible personal property. For example, you may use it to leave a beloved rocking chair to your grandchild, or a cuckoo clock to your sister. You may not use written memoranda to dispose of assets like stocks, bonds, or real property (real estate).
Experienced Advice for Your Estate Plan
Whether you want to make (valid) changes to your will, update it, or you don’t yet have will at all, you can get the help you need from estate planning attorney Gem McDowell and his associates at the Gem McDowell Law Group in Mount Pleasant, SC. Call today at 843-284-1021 to schedule your free consultation.