When making a minor change in a will, do I need to have it done by a lawyer?

A fellow caregiver asked...

When making a minor change in a will, do I need to have it done by a lawyer -- or can I just have it witnessed and notarized?

Expert Answer

Barbara Repa, a Caring.com senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

The lawyerly answer is: It depends.

First, you must be absolutely sure that the change you have identified as "minor" truly is just that. If it's a change to add a beneficiary, for example, that might affect the shares the other beneficiaries might get at your death, then there may be ripples in your will that you hadn't anticipated or intended.

If it's truly a minor change, such as changing the spelling of a name or revising an address, you may be able to make them safely by writing them in, signing and dating the changes and having these changes witnessed by at least two people -- three if you live in Vermont -- who must also sign to signify their witnessing. There is no legal requirement that a will must be notarized.

That written, it is still preferable to have a pristine will, without unsightly scratchings and deletions, at your death -- and that is the best way to assure that the document will not be challenged, but will be enforced according to your wishes.

Another bit of conventional wisdom is that it is good to review your will every year or so to make sure it reflects your current thinking. So consider making a truly minor change as a stopgap measure, but incorporating those changes in a new will should you decide to revise it.