Can a Last Will and Testament Become Invalid Due to Its Age?

Make Sure Your Estate Planning Documents Stay Valid

Envelope with Testament written on it
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While it may be a little uncomfortable to think about your last will and testament, it's important that you have a plan for executing your will when you're no longer able to do it yourself. Not only can it give you peace of mind, but your loved ones will thank you for making things easier for them.

You may be wondering, though: Can your will and other estate planning documents expire, or do you need to update them? Will the court throw them away if they're too old? Find out the facts about outdated, or "stale," wills and how to ensure your documents live as long as you need them to.

Do Wills Have Expiration Dates?

The short answer is that estate planning documents and wills don't have expiration dates. However, they can become stale, or outdated, if the terms of the document no longer apply and cannot be executed. Here's an example.

Let's say that Sam wrote his will in 2005, and it provides for the following:

  • Sam's entire estate should be divided equally to his friends, Bob and Pam.
  • If either Bob or Pam should predecease Sam, his estate will go to the survivor. The will doesn't say what should happen if both Bob and Pam predecease Sam.
  • Bob and Pam are named as co-executors of Sam's estate.

Assume that Sam signs his will with the proper legal formalities required by his state of residence. But then Sam's friend Bob dies in 2006, and his other friend Pam dies in 2015. Finally, Sam dies after them both, in 2016, and he never updated or changed his will before his death. In this case, his will is considered invalid.

Note

In the example above, Sam's will became invalid—not because his will was too old and expired, but because both of the will's beneficiaries predeceased Sam, and he didn't update the terms. Therefore, the will could not be executed.

What Happens When the Will Is Stale?

Even though Sam's will is still a valid legal document at the time of his death, it no longer says who should inherit Sam's estate. Sam's will has become useless because both Bob and Pam predeceased him.

Instead of Sam's estate being distributed as dictated by the terms of his will, it will be distributed under the intestacy laws of the state where he lived at the time of his death. Additionally, it might be subject to the intestacy laws of other states where he owned real estate or tangible personal property at the time of his death.

If Sam had married or had children between the time he wrote his will and his date of death, the laws of most states would have kicked in to provide for them. He never mentioned them in his will, but that was because they didn't exist in his life at that time. These are called "pretermitted heir" laws.

But if Sam had fallen in love with someone and they never got married before Sam's passing, that person would not receive any of Sam's estate. They weren't mentioned in the will and they're not related to him by marriage or blood. 

How to Ensure Your Will Stays Valid

The best way to ensure your will stays valid—no matter how many years pass—is to review and update it from time to time. Though your will won't ever expire, your life changes through the years could warrant changes to your estate planning documents as well.

As long as you keep everything up-to-date, your will can remain valid for years to come.

Key Takeaways

  • Estate planning documents and wills don't have expiration dates, so they never expire.
  • If the information contained in a will gets too outdated or "stale," the court may not be able to execute it.
  • Ensuring your will and other estate planning documents are up-to-date can ensure everything remains valid.