Making pen or pencil changes to a will is not a good way to avoid paying your lawyer to redo the instrument by doing it yourself. Every now and then, a thrifty testator decides that he or she will perform the alterations independent of counsel. Bad Idea!

The worst you can do by obliterating a portion of your will is to cross out a vital portion which basically renders the instrument as revoked. This may especially be the case if what you do is to totally black out part of the will with a magic marker so it is impossible to see the original language underneath.

The Surrogate’s Court will bend over backwards to admit a will to probate if at all possible. When a portion of a will is crossed out so that it can still be read and new names, terms, etc are substituted on the face of the document, a usual course of action will be to return to the original verbiage. Therefore, if you cross out the name of Cousin Joe and substitute Cousin Harry, Joe will probably still receive the bequest.

Think about it for a minute. The original language naming cousin Joe was drafted by a lawyer who supervised the execution of the will before at least two witnessed who (hopefully) signed a self-executing –or living– affidavit. While it would be nice to believe that the substitution of Cousin Harry for Cousin Joe was done by the will’s maker on his or her deathbed, who can know this for sure? What if the changes were made by Cousin Harry himself?

The only way we can be protected from a greedy party’s crude attempt at self-help is to accept only the original version of the will as duly executed and witnessed. At the very least, somebody trying to save a few bucks in legal fees by a do it yourself alteration may well in incur the added cost of a will construction proceeding as well as the  certainty that the relatives will engage in a good, healthy fight and really hate each other when the dust settles. At worst, the will may be rendered inadmissible to probate and the maker dies intestate (without a will). Not only may that totally obliterate the initial estate plan but also there may be severe tax consequences as well as other financial ramifications.

In short, if you wish to change your will, make notes on a separate piece of paper and then show them to your attorney. Having your lawyer revise your will insures that you will end up with exactly what you want. If there is sufficient money in your estate to justify making the changes you want, there should be enough there for the relatively small cost of paying for the will to be revised.