Amending or Revoking a Living Trust Document

You can change the terms of your living trust, or revoke it, at any time.

By , J.D. · UC Berkeley School of Law

Many of us make more than one will during our lifetimes; circumstances change, and our estate planning needs to change, too. Like a will, a living trust can be altered whenever you wish. One of the most attractive features of a revocable living trust is its flexibility: You can change its terms, or end it altogether, at any time.

When to Amend Your Living Trust, and When to Revoke It

Amending or Revoking Your Living Trust

You may need to amend and restate your trust if…

You may need to revoke if…

  • You get married.
  • You have a child.
  • You add valuable property to the trust.
  • You change your mind about whom you want to inherit certain items of trust property or whom you want to serve as successor trustee.
  • You move to a state with different laws about marital property or property management for young beneficiaries.
  • Your spouse dies.
  • A major beneficiary dies.
  • You want to make extensive, possibly confusing revisions.
  • You get divorced.

When you want to change a will, the conventional (and usually the best) way to proceed is to revoke the will entirely and write a new one. With a living trust, however, the situation is somewhat different. You've already transferred property to the trust; you don't want to revoke the trust, create a new one, and transfer the property all over again. That involves expense and hassle. So what should you do?

One thing you certainly don't want to do is to make handwritten changes to a trust and assume those changes will be legally valid.

Instead, the solution is to "amend and restate" the living trust document. In other words, you create an entirely new trust document—but you don't revoke the original one, you just restate it with some changes. That lets you keep the original date of the trust and means that you don't have to do anything with property that's already held in the trust.

Example: Sonia makes a living trust and signs a new deed to her house, transferring the property to the living trust. (Technically, she transfers it to herself as trustee of the trust.) In the trust document, she names her sister as her successor trustee. Five years later, she wants to name her brother as successor trustee instead. She creates a new trust document that's clearly identified as a restatement of the original one—it explicitly states that all trust terms stay the same except her choice of successor trustee—and signs it. The change is made, and all the property she's already transferred to the trust stays in the trust.

You can make a valid living trust, quickly and easily, with Nolo's Quicken WillMaker & Trust. You can also use WillMaker to amend or revoke the trust you made.

Reasons You Might Want to Change Your Living Trust

Common reasons someone might amend a trust include a wish to:

  • change a successor trustee
  • change a beneficiary
  • add or remove property, or
  • change the property management plan for beneficiaries.

How to Change a Living Trust You Made With Your Spouse

If you created a shared trust with your spouse, either of you can revoke it. If, however, you want to change any trust provisions—for example, change a beneficiary or successor trustee—both of you must agree in writing. And both spouses will probably have to consent to transfer real estate out of the living trust; buyers and title insurance companies usually insist on both spouses' signatures on transfer documents. After one spouse dies, the surviving spouse is free to amend the terms of the trust document that deal with the surviving spouse's property, but can't change the parts that determine what happens to the deceased spouse's trust property.

Can I Amend My Living Trust Without an Attorney?

You don't necessarily need an attorney to make changes to your trust. However, if you think any of your changes will cause confusion between your original trust and amended trust, you're better off consulting with a lawyer. Also get an attorney's help if you're at all unsure about the steps you need to take. For example, if you're adding property, you may need to take additional steps such as retitling the property in the name of the trustee.

Getting Started on Changing Your Living Trust

If you made your living trust using Quicken WillMaker, you can also use WillMaker to amend or revoke that trust. It will walk you through the steps.

If you want help from an attorney, see How to Find an Excellent Lawyer.

And for more DIY information about living trusts, check out the book Make Your Own Living Trust, by Denis Clifford (Nolo).

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