Can I change the executor of my will without a lawyer?


Q. My wife and I had our wills made in 1982 through a lawyer when our children were very young and some not yet born.We named my brother executor. Now that our four children are grown, we want to revise our wills to designate our children as the executor. Do we have to have this done through a lawyer or can we just attach an amendment to the wills with all the children and my brother attesting to and agreeing to the changes by their signatures?
— Needing a change

A. This could get complicated.

If your brother is the only executor that you named and upon your death or your wife’s death he declines and renounces the right to serve as the executor, then the right to be named an administrator will next pass to the surviving spouse, said Catherine Romania. an estate planning attorney with Witman Stadtmauer in Florham Park.

She said if the surviving spouse then chooses to decline and renounce the right to serve as an administrator, then the children may serve.

“However, this manner of having your children be appointed may be more time consuming and costly,” she said. “For instance, your children may have to post a bond and your children cannot legally require their uncle to step down as executor.”

She said you do not need your children and brother to agree to or attest to changes to your will, but you do need to make changes. You could either prepare and execute new wills or prepare and execute a codicil to your 1982 wills, whether by retaining legal assistance or doing it on your own, Romania said.

Because both the law and your family situation have significantly changed, Romania recommends you hire an attorney to prepare a new will.

“Unlike most situations in which self-help can be useful and cost effective, in the case of estate planning, you as the testator are not around to explain what you meant when whatever you prepared on your own is misinterpreted after your death,” Romania said. “Many times as a result of self-help, either the testator’s intent is not carried out, or in order to determine such intent, significant legal fees are incurred because the matter ends up in Superior Court and not merely in the Surrogate Court.”

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This story was originally published on Oct. 17, 2019. presents certain general financial planning principles and advice, but should never be viewed as a substitute for obtaining advice from a personal professional advisor who understands your unique individual circumstances.

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