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Deed of variation

Use a deed of variation where you inherited under a will and wish to alter or redirect your inheritance entitlement. You can use a deed of variation to redirect all of or part of your inheritance to anyone, regardless of whether or not that person was included in the will.

Due to the complexity of changing a will after death and varying your inheritance tax liability, we recommend that you seek specialist advice from an inheritance tax lawyer. Ask a lawyer for more information.

Use this deed of variation:

  • where you have inherited under a will

  • to change your entitlement to the inheritance by passing all or part of it on to another person

  • if the will was governed by the laws of England and Wales

This deed of variation covers:

  • who initially inherited under the will (ie the current beneficiary)

  • who will inherit under the deed of variation (ie the new beneficiary)

  • details of the deceased testator and their will

  • which gifts under the will are being varied (ie gifts of assets, money or the remainder of the estate)

  • how the gifts are being varied

A deed of variation is a document which allows a beneficiary (ie someone who inherits under a will) to change their entitlement from a will, after the testator (ie the person who made the will) has died. For more information, read Changing a will after death.

While you can’t rewrite someone’s will after they’ve died, you can change what you’re entitled to from the estate. The estate is the sum of the deceased’s personal assets, and can include real estate and savings along with other assets.

You will need a deed of variation where you wish to change a person’s will after their death, to distribute your inheritance differently than set out in the will. This deed of variation details how you want your inheritance under the will to be distributed instead. You can only change your own share of the estate. 

You can redirect your inheritance to anyone, regardless of whether or not they inherited under the will.

You can use this deed of variation to change how gifts of assets, money or the remainder of the estate are to be distributed.

Gifts of assets (also known as ‘specific gifts’) are gifts that relate to specifically identifiable property (eg a piece of jewellery). 

Gifts of money (also known as ‘pecuniary legacies’) are gifts for a set amount of money. 

Gifts as to the remainder of the estate (also known as ‘residuary gift’) relate to the remainder of the estate after all the other gifts have been distributed and any debts and inheritance tax has been paid. Such residuary gifts are often the biggest share of the estate and the remainder of that which has not been dealt with in another part of the will.

For more information, read Elements of a will.

Beneficiaries are individuals (or charities) who will inherit assets or estate as set out in the will being varied. The will identifies and defines who the beneficiaries are and the inheritance they will receive. For more information, read Elements of a will.

The deed of variation includes two types of beneficiaries: the current beneficiary and the new beneficiary.

The current beneficiary is the individual who inherited under the deceased’s will. The current beneficiary is the individual who can use the deed of variation to change their inheritance entitlement.

The new beneficiary is the individual to whom the current beneficiary is passing all of or part of their inheritance entitlement to, using the deed of variation.

When making changes to your inheritance entitlement using a deed of variation, you can choose whether the new beneficiary will receive the gift subject to or free from inheritance tax.

Where a gift is free from inheritance tax, the current beneficiary will be liable for any inheritance tax payable. Where a gift is subject to inheritance tax, the new beneficiary will be liable for any inheritance tax payable.

There are two schedules attached to the deed of variation: one dealing with the assets varied under the deed of variation and one dealing with the testamentary documents.

Assets Schedule

This schedule sets out details relating to assets being redistributed under the deed of variation. The schedule:

  • includes a description of the asset (which should include all details relevant to the asset) so that it can easily be identified 

  • specifies how the current beneficiary is entitled to the assets (ie by being the sole surviving joint owner or by inheriting it under the will)

  • specifies if the current beneficiary inherited the asset subject to or free from inheritance tax (this should be set out in the will)

Testamentary Documents Schedule

This schedule includes all relevant testamentary documents. The will and, where they exist, all codicils (an addition or supplement to the will) should be attached to the deed of variation in this schedule.

A deed of variation can be made before or after the executor gets the grant of probate (ie the right to administer the deceased’s estate). However, a deed of variation needs to be made within two years of the testator’s death. For more information, read Changing a will after death.

A deed of variation can be used to change your inheritance tax liability (either by increasing or decreasing the amount of tax payable). However, we recommend that you Ask a lawyer if you wish to change the amount of tax payable. Changing your tax liability can have different consequences so it’s important to seek specialist advice from a tax advisor or inheritance lawyer.

For more information on the consequences of changing your inheritance tax liability, see Changing a will after death.

Ask a lawyer for advice if:

  • the testator died without leaving a will 

  • you vary the amount of inheritance tax payable under the will

  • you want to vary your inheritance to set up a trust

  • you want to vary your inheritance to donate money to charity

  • you want to vary your inheritance of stocks, shares or marketable securities 

  • you require specialised inheritance tax advice

  • you are located in Scotland

This deed of variation is governed by the law of England and Wales.

Other names for Deed of variation

Deed of family arrangement, After-death variation, Deed of disclaimer, After-death variation to a will.

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