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How to Change a Will in Minnesota: A Detailed Guide

How to Change a Will in Minnesota A Detailed Guide

Creating a will is a critical step in managing your estate planning, ensuring your assets are distributed according to your wishes after you pass away. However, life changes such as marriage, divorce, the birth of children, or a change in financial circumstances can necessitate updates to your will. In Minnesota, altering a will must be done with care to ensure the changes are legally binding. This guide provides a comprehensive overview of the process to change a will in Minnesota, ensuring your estate plan remains aligned with your current intentions.

Understanding the Importance of Updating Your Will

As life unfolds, your estate planning needs evolve. Regularly reviewing and updating your will ensures that your estate is managed and distributed as you intend, with consideration for new beneficiaries or changes in your financial situation. It's advisable to review your will after major life events or at least every few years.

Legal Requirements for Changing a Will in Minnesota

Minnesota law stipulates specific requirements for making changes to a will to ensure its validity. These changes can be made through a codicil or by drafting a new will.

Codicils: Modifying Your Will

A codicil is an amendment to your existing will that allows you to make changes without rewriting the entire document. To be valid in Minnesota, a codicil must adhere to the same legal formalities as the original will, including:

  • Written Document: The codicil must be in writing.
  • Signatures: It must be signed by the person making the changes (the testator) in the presence of at least two witnesses, who also sign the document.
  • Capacity: The testator must be of sound mind, understanding the nature of the codicil and its effects on the original will.

Codicils are best suited for minor changes. For more substantial revisions, drafting a new will might be more appropriate.

Drafting a New Will

In cases of significant changes to your estate plan, creating a new will may be more practical than adding multiple codicils. A new will should declare that it revokes all previous wills and codicils. This document must also meet Minnesota's legal requirements for wills, including being in writing, signed by the testator, and witnessed by at least two individuals.

Comparison of Will Amendments: Codicil vs. New Will

Feature Codicil New Will


To make minor changes, additions, or deletions to an existing will

To completely replace an existing will, typically for major updates

Execution Requirements

Must be written, signed by the testator, and witnessed by at least two individuals

Must be written, signed by the testator, and witnessed by at least two individuals


Less complex for minor modifications

More complex, but clearer for significant changes

Legal Validity

Must adhere to the same legal formalities as the original will

Revokes previous wills and codicils, establishing a new definitive document

Best Used When

The changes are relatively minor and straightforward

There are substantial changes or the desire for a fresh start

Key Takeaways:

  • Codicils are suitable for minor adjustments to a will, whereas drafting a new will is recommended for more significant changes to ensure clarity and prevent potential legal disputes.
  • Both codicils and new wills must follow strict legal requirements in Minnesota to be considered valid, including being witnessed by at least two individuals.
  • Choosing between a codicil and a new will depends on the extent of the changes needed and the testator's preference for simplicity or thoroughness in their estate planning.

Steps to Change a Will in Minnesota

  1. Review Your Current Will: Begin by thoroughly reviewing your existing will to determine the changes needed.
  2. Decide on the Method of Change: Depending on the extent of the changes, decide whether to use a codicil or draft a new will.
  3. Consult with an Experienced Attorney: Making changes to your will can have significant legal implications. Consult with an attorney knowledgeable in Minnesota estate law to ensure your will meets all legal requirements and accurately reflects your wishes. Heritage Law Office offers experienced guidance on wills, trusts, and estate planning.
  4. Execute the Changes: Whether you're adding a codicil or drafting a new will, ensure the document is executed in accordance with Minnesota law, including proper witnessing.
  5. Store the Document Safely: Keep the updated will or codicil in a safe place, and inform your executor or personal representative of its location.

Considerations for Specific Changes

  • Adding or Removing Beneficiaries: Whether it's due to family changes or altered relationships, clearly outline these changes in your will or codicil.
  • Changing Executors: If you wish to appoint a different executor, state this change clearly in your updated will or codicil.
  • Adjusting Asset Distribution: Specify any new assets acquired or changes in how you wish to distribute your assets.

Protecting Your Estate and Loved Ones: Additional Estate Planning Tools

While updating your will is crucial, it's also important to consider other estate planning tools that can complement your will and provide further protection and clarity for your estate and your loved ones. These tools can help manage your assets more efficiently and ensure your wishes are carried out.

Trusts: An Effective Estate Planning Strategy

Trusts are a versatile estate planning tool that can help you manage your assets during your lifetime and distribute them after your death. There are various types of trusts, each serving different purposes, such as avoiding probate, minimizing estate taxes, or providing for a loved one with special needs. Some common trusts include:

  • Revocable Trusts: Also known as living trusts, allow you to retain control over your assets during your lifetime and specify how they should be distributed upon your death.
  • Irrevocable Trusts: Once established, cannot be altered. These trusts can offer tax benefits and protection from creditors.
  • Charitable Trusts: Enable you to leave a portion of your estate to a charity or charities of your choice, potentially offering tax advantages.
  • Special Needs Trusts: Designed to provide for a loved one with special needs without jeopardizing their eligibility for government benefits.

Incorporating trusts into your estate plan can provide you with flexibility and control over how your assets are managed and distributed. For more information on setting up trusts, Heritage Law Office can offer expert guidance tailored to your unique situation.

Powers of Attorney and Healthcare Directives

In addition to managing your assets, a comprehensive estate plan addresses situations where you might be unable to make decisions for yourself due to illness or incapacity.

  • Powers of Attorney: Legal documents that grant someone you trust the authority to make financial or healthcare decisions on your behalf if you become unable to do so.
  • Healthcare Directives: Also known as living wills, these documents outline your preferences for medical treatment and end-of-life care.

These documents are essential for ensuring that your wishes are respected and that someone you trust can make decisions on your behalf when you're not able to.

Beneficiary Designations and Succession Planning

  • Beneficiary Designations: Ensure that assets like retirement accounts and life insurance policies are transferred directly to your designated beneficiaries without going through probate.
  • Business Succession Planning: If you own a business, developing a succession plan is crucial for ensuring a smooth transition and minimizing disruption in the event of your retirement, incapacity, or death.

Essential Estate Planning Documents Beyond a Will

Document Purpose Importance


Manage assets during the testator's lifetime and specify distribution upon death

Avoid probate, provide for special needs, minimize taxes, protect assets

Powers of Attorney

Grant someone authority to make decisions on behalf of the testator if they become incapacitated

Ensure financial and healthcare decisions are made according to the testator's wishes

Healthcare Directives

Outline preferences for medical treatment and end-of-life care

Ensure medical wishes are honored, relieve burden on family members in making tough decisions

Beneficiary Designations

Directly transfer assets like retirement accounts and life insurance to designated beneficiaries

Avoid probate, ensure assets are distributed according to the testator's wishes

Business Succession Plans

Outline the process for transferring business ownership and control

Ensure smooth transition, minimize disruption, protect business value

Key Takeaways:

  • A comprehensive estate plan includes more than just a will; it should also incorporate trusts, powers of attorney, healthcare directives, beneficiary designations, and, if applicable, a business succession plan.
  • These additional estate planning tools offer a broader range of protection and control over the distribution of assets and decision-making in cases of incapacity or death.
  • Regularly reviewing and updating these documents, in addition to your will, ensures that your estate planning strategy remains aligned with your current wishes and circumstances.

Conclusion: A Comprehensive Approach to Estate Planning

Updating your will is an essential part of maintaining your estate plan. Whether through a codicil or by drafting a new will, it's important to ensure your changes are made in compliance with Minnesota law. For personalized advice and assistance with changing your will, reach out to Heritage Law Office by using the online form or calling us directly at 414-253-8500. Our team is dedicated to providing knowledgeable guidance to help you navigate the complexities of estate planning, ensuring your wishes are honored and your loved ones are protected.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. How often should I update my will in Minnesota?

Updating your will is recommended after any major life event, such as marriage, divorce, the birth of a child, or a significant change in your financial situation. Additionally, reviewing your will every three to five years ensures it remains aligned with your current wishes and circumstances.

2. Can I make changes to my will by simply writing in the margins or crossing things out?

No, making handwritten changes in the margins or crossing out sections of your will without following legal procedures can lead to disputes and may not be legally recognized. In Minnesota, any changes to a will must be made either through a formal amendment called a codicil or by drafting a new will, both of which require proper witnessing to be legally valid.

3. What is the difference between a codicil and a new will in Minnesota?

A codicil is an amendment to your existing will that allows for minor changes, additions, or deletions. It must be executed with the same formalities as the original will. Drafting a new will is advisable for more substantial changes, as it replaces the previous version entirely. Both methods require witnessing and adherence to Minnesota law to ensure validity.

4. What happens if I don't update my will after a divorce in Minnesota?

In Minnesota, if you don't update your will after a divorce, provisions favoring your ex-spouse are automatically revoked unless the will expressly states otherwise. However, it's crucial to update your will to address any changes in beneficiaries or to appoint a new executor, ensuring your assets are distributed according to your current wishes.

5. Are digital wills legal in Minnesota?

As of my last update, Minnesota does not recognize purely digital wills as legally binding. A will must be in writing, signed by the testator, and witnessed by at least two individuals who are present at the same time. However, laws can change, so consulting with an attorney about the latest legal developments is advisable for the most current advice.

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