Talk to a top lawyer for free

How much does it cost to change your will?

Wondering how much it costs to update a will? We answer all your questions about the cost to change a will and when you should update yours.

evident Editorial Team
November 28, 2023
will, handwritten will

Keeping your will up-to-date is an essential aspect of proper estate planning. A will is a legal document that defines your wishes regarding asset distribution, care for minor children, and other vital decisions after your demise. However, life circumstances evolve – from the birth of a child, a change in marital status, acquisition or disposal of assets, to shifts in your financial landscape – all of these require your will to be timely and accurately updated. 

But how much does it cost to change your will? It depends. The cost can range anywhere from free to few thousand dollars for significant amendments to a complex will.

In this article, we'll explore different situations, like the implications of changing executors on a will or making minor amendments. We will also analyze the costs of updating a will across different states and discuss when seeking professional legal help is prudent. The goal is to equip you with the knowledge to make informed decisions and ensure your last will accurately reflect your final wishes.

Key Takeaways

What is a Will and its Purpose in Estate Planning?

A will, in the context of estate planning, is a legally binding document that outlines your wishes to distribute your assets, care for minor children, and manage other personal matters after your death. It's the cornerstone of estate planning, allowing you to exercise control over your estate even beyond your lifetime.

At its core, a will designates who will receive your property, assets, and personal items and in what proportions. This ranges from financial accounts, real estate, and personal belongings to other tangible and intangible assets. For those with minor children, a will is a place to appoint legal guardians, ensuring your children's care aligns with your preference.

A will can also designate an executor - the person responsible for carrying out the wishes stated in your will. This role is crucial as the executor of a will navigates the probate court process, pays bills and taxes from the estate, and ensures the proper distribution of assets.

However, a comprehensive estate plan usually includes more than just a will. Other legal documents, such as a living will or advance directive, express your wishes about end-of-life medical decisions. A financial power of attorney allows a designated person, or 'attorney in fact,' to manage your financial matters if you become incapable.

Despite the common misconception, estate planning is not just for the rich. It's important for everyone, providing security and peace of mind for you and your family members irrespective of the size of your estate. The key is to keep your will and other estate planning documents updated, accurately reflecting your current circumstances and wishes.

Why Updating a Will is Essential

A will is not a 'set and forget' document. It requires regular updates to mirror the changes in your life and circumstances. Several factors underline the importance of keeping your will current.

  • Family changes: Marriages, divorces, births, or deaths can dramatically affect the contents of your will. For instance, the birth of a child may require you to adjust asset distribution or appoint a guardian. Similarly, a divorce might necessitate removing your ex-spouse from the will.
  • Changes in financial circumstances: Acquiring new assets like real estate, stocks, or businesses or disposing of assets can alter the estate's structure. These changes can affect the division of assets and your intended beneficiaries.
  • Changes in laws: State laws governing estate planning and the probate process can change over time, potentially affecting your will's validity or efficacy. Regular updates ensure your will remains compliant with the latest laws.

Ignoring necessary changes can lead to unintended consequences, including legal disputes among family members, misinterpretation of your final wishes, or the distribution of assets contrary to your intent. In the worst-case scenario, an outdated or invalid will force the state to distribute your assets, which might not align with your wishes.

Updating your will is not a luxury but a necessity, ensuring your final wishes are clear, legally sound, and feasible to implement.

Factors Influencing the Cost to Update a Will

Understanding the variables influencing the cost of updating a will is essential to proper estate planning.

property, house, real estate

Here are the primary factors that will influence the cost:

Complexity of the Estate

The complexity of your estate significantly impacts the cost of updating a will. If you have numerous assets, such as multiple properties, large financial accounts, or business interests, your will is inevitably more complex, requiring more time and expertise to revise accurately. Consequently, the cost to update such a will is typically higher than for a simpler estate.

Changes in Executors

Changing the executor named in your will is another aspect that can affect the cost of updating your will. The executor carries out the directives of your will, so changing this person can be a significant amendment, depending on the complexity of your estate and the executor's responsibilities. 

Changes in Beneficiaries or Asset Distribution

Alterations to beneficiaries or asset distribution often require substantial changes to your will. Adding or removing beneficiaries, changing the distribution ratio, or adding specific bequests can involve detailed legal changes. These revisions, especially if they're complex or numerous, can increase the cost of updating your will.

Changes in State Laws

Laws governing estate planning and wills vary by state and can change over time. For instance, witness requirements, the validity of oral wills, and the procedure for amending a will can all differ. When these laws change, you may need to update your will or living will to ensure it remains compliant and effective. In such cases, professional legal advice might be necessary, increasing the cost of updating your will.

Understanding these factors provides a basis for estimating the cost of updating a will. However, it's worth noting that these costs are investments in securing your family's future and ensuring your wishes are carried out accurately.

Estimating the Cost of Updating a Will

Determining the exact cost of updating a will can be challenging due to the factors mentioned earlier. However, the cost can generally range from free, to a few hundred dollars for minor changes to a simple will, to a few thousand dollars for significant amendments to a complex will. (And that price range is similar but typically less than the cost of making a will in the first instance).

money, profit, finance

Estate planning lawyers might charge for will updates either on an hourly basis or a flat fee. For minor changes like adding a new asset or changing a beneficiary, the cost could be minimal if your attorney charges by the hour. However, the cost could escalate for complex modifications involving several aspects of your will, such as changes to executors or significant shifts in asset distribution.

On the other hand, flat fee structures offered by some estate planning lawyers can provide a comprehensive rate for updating your will. While this can be more cost-effective for substantial changes, there may be better options for minor adjustments. Understanding the fee structure your attorney employs is crucial in estimating the costs.

Court fees may also apply, especially if your changes require a formal procedure like a codicil or a new will. These costs are usually nominal but should be factored into your overall cost estimations.

Remember that while the cost is crucial, ensuring that your will is accurate, legally sound, and reflective of your wishes should be paramount. In the following sections, we'll explore some cost-effective ways to update your will and when to seek legal help.

Cost-Effective Options for Updating Your Will

Updating your will doesn't always need to be expensive. Several cost-effective options can help you keep your will current without straining your budget:

Online Will Services

Online will services offer affordable and quick ways to make simple changes to your will. They usually offer a variety of estate planning tools and templates that you can use to update your will. However, online wills are most suitable for straightforward estates and minor updates, as they may only partially cater to complex needs.

Do It Yourself Updates

You might consider a 'Do It Yourself' approach and update your own will for minor changes. Several fill-in-the-blank forms and software programs can guide you through creating a codicil, an addendum to your will that allows minor changes. Note that this is recommended only for very straightforward changes and when you understand your state's laws well. 

Legal Clinics

Some local law schools and community organizations run legal clinics offering free or low-cost legal services, including help with will updates. 

While these options can save money, they may not replace the advice of an experienced estate planning attorney, particularly for complex estates or significant changes. Professional legal help can ensure your will complies with state laws, appropriately reflects your wishes, and avoids potential legal disputes in probate court down the line.

When to Consult an Estate Planning Attorney

entrepreneur, startup, start-up

While cost-effective options are available for minor updates, there are situations where consulting an estate planning attorney becomes necessary:

  • Complex Estates: If your estate involves multiple properties, businesses, substantial financial investments, or complicated family situations, seeking a lawyer's expertise is advisable. Complex estates usually require sophisticated estate planning strategies beyond a simple will.
  • Significant Changes: Major changes like altering the executor, drastically changing asset distribution, or adding complex provisions like trusts are best handled with legal guidance. Such changes require a nuanced understanding of laws and could have significant tax implications.
  • Legal Compliance: Each state has unique laws regarding wills and estate planning. If you're unsure about your state's requirements or recent changes in these laws, consult a lawyer to ensure your will is legally compliant.
  • Mediation: In situations where your changes might cause contention among family members or beneficiaries, a lawyer can provide valuable mediation services, helping to prevent potential disputes.

While some law firms charge by the hour, others offer flat fees or estate planning packages that cover your needed documents.

While updating your will, an attorney-client relationship also provides confidentiality and legal protection. While a cost is involved, investing in professional legal services can save potential future complications and ensure your final wishes are accurately and legally implemented.

FAQs About Updating A Will

How much does it cost to amend a will?

Amending a will, often accomplished with a document called a codicil, can vary in cost. You might pay a few hundred dollars for minor changes, particularly if using online services or DIY kits. More complex alterations, especially when using legal services, can range into the thousands, depending on the attorney's fee structure and the complexity of the changes.

How much does it cost to make a minor change to your will?

Making minor changes to your will can be relatively inexpensive, especially if your attorney charges hourly or if you utilize online services. Expect costs to start from around a hundred dollars and vary based on the nature of the change and the method you choose for updating.

How much does it cost to change executors on a will?

The cost of changing executors can be modest if that is the only change you are making. The cost to change executors on a will also depends, though,  on whether you do so in a more minor way (such as through a codicil) or by fully re-writing the will.

It will probably cost more to write an entirely new will that lists a different executor. Creating a codicil to your will is often a cheaper option, but depends on many of the factors discussed above, such as whether or not you hire an estate planning attorney.  

How much does a codicil cost?

A codicil is a legal document that is updates or amends an existing will, or revokes some or all of an existing will. It typically costs less to make a codicil than it does to draft a new will.

Making a codicil to an existing will could be as cheap as $100, or even less if you use online tools and don't enlist an attorney's assistance.

Keep in mind, though, that there are specific legal requirements for executing a valid codicil, so it is crucial to observe all the necessary formalities required under your state's laws.

How much does it cost to change your will in New Jersey?

The cost of changing your will in New Jersey can range from a few hundred dollars for simple changes to a few thousand dollars for significant modifications, particularly for complex estates. These costs account for legal fees if you use an attorney and any related court fees.

How much does it cost to change your will in New York?

In New York, updating your will may cost anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on the complexity of the changes and whether you enlist the services of an attorney. New York law also allows for a codicil to a will, which may incur additional court fees. It's always advisable to check the latest fee schedules in your local jurisdiction.

The Final Word on Updating Your Will

Updating your will is a crucial step in responsible estate planning. While the cost to update your will can vary, it's an investment in ensuring your final wishes are accurately represented and legally enforceable.

Whether you opt for a cost-effective option for minor changes or engage an estate planning attorney for complex adjustments, staying proactive about your will keeps you in control of your asset distribution.

Remember, it's not just about the cost but about securing your family's future and ensuring that your estate will be handled according to your wishes.