Revocation of a Will in Tennessee
Once a person has made a will in Tennessee, it may be revoked in certain ways provided for by TCA § 32-1-201. That section reads as follows:
Actions effecting a revocation of will.
A will or any part thereof is revoked by:
(1) A subsequent will, other than a nuncupative will, that revokes the prior will or part expressly or by inconsistency;
(2) Document of revocation, executed with all the formalities of an attested will or a holographic will, but not a nuncupative will, that revokes the prior will or part expressly;
(3) Being burned, torn, cancelled, obliterated or destroyed, with the intent and for the purpose of revoking it, by the testator or by another person in the testator's presence and by the testator's direction; or
(4) Both the subsequent marriage and the birth of a child of the testator, but divorce or annulment of the subsequent marriage does not revive a prior will.
The first three of the listed methods are actions taken directly by the person whose will it is (the testator). Making another will is a common method of revoking a prior will, but as the statute points out, this is not automatic. A new will revokes a prior will if such revocation is explicitly stated in the new will, but it may also revoke parts of an older will even if that explicit statement is absent. In fact, there are certain (very limited) reasons that a testator might want to execute a new document that only changes, and effectively revokes, part of an existing will; this document is called a 'codicil.' Situations like this are best evaluated by an attorney, so be sure to consult one if you have questions about how this kind of revocation might affect your estate plan.
Much like revocation by a subsequent will, a different type of instrument can be executed with the explicit purpose of revoking a will. This kind of document must follow all the formal rules applied to either a regular will or a holographic will, but it itself is not a will because its sole purpose is simply to revoke a will. The result of this document, if not followed by others, would be that any assets that would have passed under the will would instead pass by intestate succession. This will likely be the focus of future articles; the rules for the different kinds of wills and for intestate succession are also laid out in Tennessee via statute.
The third way to revoke a will is to burn, tear, cancel, obliterate, or destroy the will. This is sometimes a risky way to revoke a will because certain methods of physical revocation run the risk of not being recognized by a court as actually having revoked the will. This is another reason it is prudent to seek the advice of a reputable attorney if you wish to revoke your will.
Finally, Tennessee maintains an interesting condition for revocation as a matter of law. The idea that a will is automatically revoked by a marriage AND the subsequent birth of an heir is an old one, and was part of common law hundreds of years ago. That exception is codified in Tennessee at part (4) of the statute above, with the birth of an "heir" being modified to include the birth of a child.
If you think that any of these situations might apply to your estate plan, or if you have questions about revoking a will, please be sure to consult a Tennessee estate planning attorney.
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