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Updating a Will (NT)

A vital element of a valid will is that it is a current reflection of a will-maker’s wishes for their estate. As such, the will-maker needs to make sure that the content of their will remains current. The best way to do this is to regularly review a will, ideally once a year and any time when there is a major life change. The testator can then draft a new will when changes are necessary. This article explains the implications and process of updating a will in the Northern Territory.

Revoking A Will In The Northern Territory

A testator can revoke part or the whole of their will by making a formal declaration in writing according to will-execution regulations. A testator can also revoke their will by burning, tearing or shredding the document or directing someone else to destroy the will. Additionally, a testator can make notes or write on the will in such a manner that the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory has no doubt that their intention was to revoke the will. However, the testator can achieve a simpler outcome simply by making a later valid will that expands on the provisions of the previous will. The execution of a new will automatically replaces the earlier will.

Updating A Will In The Northern Territory

Testators are often tempted to make updates to their will by crossing out or erasing words, and adding new clauses by writing between and around the lines. These types of informal amendments are likely to cause confusion, especially if complex amendments are handwritten and difficult to decipher. Nonetheless, making these changes before a will is originally executed is acceptable, as long as the testator and witnesses initial the margin next to the alteration. If there is no initialling, the court will assume that the alteration was made after the will was originally signed.

Any alteration made to a will after it is executed is not valid unless the alteration is executed according to formal will regulations. In the Northern Territory, a will is only formal when it is:

  • handwritten or typewritten;
  • signed by a testator with an intention to execute the will; and
  • witnessed by two individuals in the testator’s presence who are not themselves beneficiaries.

The only exception is if the Supreme Court determines that the document is actually a valid informal will.

Changes To A Testator’s Circumstances

A testator’s circumstances will almost certainly change in the period between when they execute their will and their death. The testator might buy more property or sell old assets, or give away or lose items. They might decide to make different legacies, or their chosen beneficiaries might pass away before they do. When a testator wants to update their will, it is far preferable for them to make an entirely new will, or at least add a codicil to their existing will. A codicil is a supplementary document that explains, modifies, or revokes parts of the original will.

A fully executed will remains in force until the testator formally renounces or replaces the document, or marries or divorces. Marriage and divorce are such significant milestones in a person’s life that they have an automatic legal effect on their testamentary arrangements.

Effect Of Marriage On Will

Under the Wills Act 2000 (NT), a testator’s will is revoked when they marry, except for:

  • a bequest to the testator’s spouse;
  • an appointment of the spouse as executor, guardian, trustee or advisory trustee;
  • when it was made by someone exercising power of attorney, in certain circumstances; and
  • when it was made in contemplation of marriage, regardless of whether the testator explicitly referenced this fact in the will.

Effect Of Divorce And Annulment On A Will

Similarly, there is an automatic effect on a testator’s will when their marriage is annulled or dissolved through divorce. The divorce or annulment of a testator’s marriage revokes any beneficial disposition to, or appointment of, their spouse in the will unless the will-maker has specified otherwise.

For the automatic revocation to apply, the divorce must have been fully finalised, with a decree absolute according to the regulations of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth), or an annulment granted by the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia through a decree of nullity. The revocation will also flow from any annulment or dissolution of marriage that takes place overseas, as long as that legal process is recognised by Australian law. It is important to know that the dissolution of a marriage does not revoke the power of appointment or appointment of the spouse as a trustee of property left in trust for the spouse’s children.

A testator should update a will as often as they wish, but it is prudent to review the document every couple of years to ensure that it properly reflects their circumstances. Please contact or call 1300 636 846 if you need advice about updating a will in the Northern Territory.


Nicola Bowes

Dr Nicola Bowes holds a Bachelor of Arts with first-class honours from the University of Tasmania, a Bachelor of Laws with first-class honours from the Queensland University of Technology, and a PhD from The University of Queensland. After a decade of working in higher education, Nicola joined Go To Court Lawyers in 2020.

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