We often see wills where the testator has taken it upon him or herself to make various changes to an executed will by making handwritten changes on its face. What is the effect of these alterations?
A starting point is s. 18 of the Succession Law Reform Act (“SLRA”). This section provides that an alteration is not effective unless it made in accordance with the provisions of the SLRA regarding due execution, or unless the alteration makes a word or words “no longer apparent”.
If the will is a formal will, holograph alterations are not permitted (although a holograph codicil is permitted).
These principles were applied in the case of Luty v. Magill. There, it was found that handwritten alterations to a will that were undated and that did not totally obscure the original bequest were invalid, but that other alterations that were initialled (initials can constitute a signature for the purposes of the SLRA) and dated were considered holograph codicils, and were therefore valid.
With respect to obliteration, if the original words cannot be read, by holding the will up to the light or by using a magnifying glass, (but without the assistance of any other mechanical aids) then the words will be considered to be revoked, regardless of when they were obliterated.
Altered wills will usually require an application for the opinion, advice and direction of the court. Testators should be cautioned as to the requirements for validly altering a will so that the costs of such a court application can be avoided.
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