Many people believe that if they put a will in place, their will will determine what happens to their estate after their death.

Although this is the starting point, ultimately a person's will can be changed after their death.

Who can change a will?

Beneficiaries and executors can make changes to a will after the deceased's death.

How can beneficiaries change a will?

A will can be varied by a beneficiary or beneficiaries of the estate by entering into a deed of variation.

The deed of variation will outline the benefit originally left to the beneficiary in the will and explain how this benefit is being changed. The deed of variation is signed by the original beneficiary and is usually also signed by the executor.

A beneficiary can only vary their own inheritance and not the inheritance of other beneficiaries!

Why would a beneficiary change a will?

There can be various reasons for changing a person's will after the testator's death. However, the motives often centre around estate and succession planning.

For example, the original beneficiary may feel that if they receive an inheritance from the deceased's estate, this will ultimately result in an inheritance tax liability in their own estate on their death in the future. If the will is changed and the deed of variation meets certain conditions, the deed of variation can be used to successfully mitigate this issue.

Separately, certain beneficiaries might feel that they are already financially secure and it would be better for the inheritance to go directly to their own children at this stage. The deed of variation results in the inheritance bypassing the original beneficiary in these circumstances.

Additionally, beneficiaries may wish to change a will to achieve better asset protection. This could involve creating trusts through the deed of variation.

When should a change be made to a deceased person's will?

For inheritance tax and capital gains tax purposes, deeds of variation should be signed before the second anniversary of the deceased person's death. Put simply, provided that this deadline and other conditions are met, the inheritance tax and capital gains tax consequences of the deed of variation are considered against the deceased as opposed to the beneficiary making the change.

How can an executor change a will?

An executor can change a will by appointing other executors to either act alongside them or to take over from them as executor. The original executor may feel that they need the support of a fellow executor or that they would rather not act in the role at all.


It is important for beneficiaries and executors to be aware that they can make changes to a deceased person's will. There are various motives for making changes to a will after death. If a beneficiary is considering making the change for tax reasons, it is important that they take advice at an early stage to ensure that the two-year deadline is met.

For more information, please do not hesitate to contact any of the members of our Personal team.


Fraser Mackay