Deed of variation - changing a will after death

A deed of variation gives beneficiaries flexibility to change the distribution of an estate when someone has died. The following guide explains what a deed of variation is, why you may need one and how to put one in place.

What is a deed of variation?

A deed of variation allows beneficiaries to redirect their entitlement to another person. It can be used by anyone who inherits from a will, or rules of intestacy if there is no will in place. To be valid, the deed of variation must be completed within 2 years of death. 

The person receiving the redirected inheritance can be anyone, they don’t have to be mentioned in the will. However, any beneficiaries who are impacted by the change will need to be in full agreement.

Changes to the will after death can be made before or after probate but any increase in inheritance tax must be reported to HMRC.

Why would you need to change a will after death?

You may use a deed of variation to change a will after death if you wanted to:

  • Reduce or avoid inheritance tax or capital gains tax
  • Provide for someone left out of a will, e.g. child or grandchild
  • Change the balance of distribution, perhaps giving less wealthy beneficiaries a larger share
  • Provide for someone who under the intestacy rules hasn’t inherited, e.g. a partner or stepchild
  • Clear up uncertainty over the will
  • Move the estate into trust

Is there a deed of variation template or form?

There is no deed of variation form as such, you just need to write a letter detailing the change to the will. Some companies offer a deed of variation template however this will come at cost. Alternatively you could use a solicitor who will take care of everything for you.

If you plan on doing it yourself, the gov.uk website provides an instrument of variation checklist which will guide you through the process.

Your letter does not need to be registered however if the change to the will increases the estates tax liability, you will need to send a copy to HMRC.

 Who signs a deed of variation?

The beneficiary making changes to the will plus any beneficiaries adversely affected must sign the deed of variation. If the change means that the estate is liable to pay more tax, then the executor(s) must also sign the deed.

If the changes affect the inheritance or future inheritance of anyone under the age of 18, as they are legally too young to sign the deed you would need to seek permission from the court.

How much does a deed of variation cost?

There is no cost associated with a deed of variation as you are simply writing a letter, unless you use professional services. In this instance costs range between £200 to £750 depending on the solicitor fees and the complexity of the change

Although costly, using a solicitor may be worthwhile if you want to ensure no mistakes are made.

What should I do now?

For more information on arranging a deed of variation yourself, take a look at the government’s website.

Alternatively, for professional advice speak to your solicitor.

Frequently asked questions

  • Can you do a deed of variation after probate?
    • A deed of variation can be written before or after probate. The only time restriction is that any changes to the will are made within 2 years of death.

  • Is a deed of variation legally binding?
    • A deed of variation is legally binding if it is signed by all the beneficiaries affected and the executor if there is any change to the estates tax liability.

  • Do I need a deed of variation?
    • A deed of variation is important if you want to redirect any inheritance you have received. Written and signed in the proper manner means the changes made to the will are legally binding.

      If you pass on your inheritance without a deed of variation and then die within a certain number of years, you may be subject to the inheritance tax 7 year rule.

  • Can you cancel a deed of variation?
    • Once a deed of variation has been signed it cannot usually be revoked, so it’s important to think carefully before putting one in place.

who signs a deed of variation

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