After making a will, the testator -- the person writing the will -- may decide to make changes to it. Testators can make their wills null and void in a number of ways. State laws can vary, but the Uniform Probate Code serves as a guide and it's been adopted in part or in whole in 20 states.
Make a New Will
A standard provision in a will is that the testator "hereby revokes any previous wills." Making this statement in a new will effectively revokes all former wills. The new will should be stored in a place that's easy to locate so that the court knows it's the most recent one.
Add a Codicil
A testator can add another instrument to his will that only modifies it if he doesn't want to go through the hassle of making a completely new one. He can make an amendment -- called a codicil -- in which he references the old will and explains the changes he wants to make to it. The codicil should be dated and witnessed in the same way the will was. This strategy won't make the will null and void, but it can help the testator make new provisions.
A testator can also make a list to add to his will that describes his property and explains who he wants to receive it. The letter should state that it is a tangible personal property memorandum so it's recognized by the court. The testator can change it later if he wants to without amending the entire will.
Tearing, burning, shredding or otherwise destroying a will makes it null and void, according to the law office of Barrera Sanchez & Associates. The testator might do this personally or order someone else to do it while he witnesses the act. The testator should destroy all physical copies of the will as well to prevent a duplicate from being presented to the probate court after his death.
Get Rid of Property
A testator can annul a provision in a will regarding a particular piece of property by getting rid of the item before his death in a legal process called ademption. The testator might say in his will that he wants his nephew to have his Rolex watch, but he sells it years before he dies. The American Bar Association explains that the nephew doesn't receive the watch if this happens and he doesn't get to select an alternate gift. The bequest simply fails.
Sometimes a person doesn't have to take an intentional step to make a will or a provision invalid. In the event of divorce, the Uniform Probate Code considers any gift to or appointment of a former spouse as executor to be revoked unless the will specifically states otherwise. This may includes gifts to the former spouse's children who aren't also the testator's children.
Separation is not treated the same way as divorce under the Uniform Probate Code so it may not effect the spouse's ability to be appointed as an executor or to receive bequests. The rules on when a change of circumstances might automatically affect a will vary by state.
Samantha Kemp is a lawyer for a general practice firm. She has been writing professionally since 2009. Her articles focus on legal issues, personal finance, business and education. Kemp acquired her JD from the University of Arkansas School of Law. She also has degrees in economics and business and teaching.