I cannot tell you how many times I hear people tell me “I already have a Will. I don’t need your services.” That statement might be correct, but often people don’t recall exactly what is in their Will. That’s why it is essential that people review their Will whenever a major life event occurs or at a minimum, every four or five years. It amazes me how many people forget that they designated Uncle Jim to be the guardian of their children and Uncle Jim is now in jail for drug violations, or they gave grandma’s jewelry to a niece and they now have their own daughter who they would prefer to have it. These are just a few examples of things we forget unless we periodically review our Will.
So, how do you go about making changes to your Will? The answer is that it depends on the types of changes you want to make. If you need to make a minor change, like adding a specific bequest or updating the last name of a beneficiary who’s gotten married, then you may want to use a Codicil. A Codicil is a legal document that changes a specific provision of a Will, while leaving all of the other provisions exactly as they originally were. A Codicil needs to be signed and witnessed with the same formality as your original Will, so you’ll need to get the help of your estate planning attorney.
On the other hand, if you need to make a big change to your Will, such as disinheriting one of your beneficiaries; or if you need to make several small changes, you’ll likely want to have your estate planning attorney draw up a new Will for you to sign. This will make it easier for your executor to follow your intentions when the time comes to probate your Will and distribute your assets.
The easier your Will is to read and follow, the less likely a Will contest becomes, saving time and money during the probate process. There is no hard and fast legal rule that dictates when a Codicil should be used as opposed to when a new Will should be made. However, if one of the beneficiaries in your Will is likely to receive something of less value after the Codicil is executed there are some attorneys who believe executing a new Will is more likely to ensure your new wishes are fulfilled than if you simply execute a Codicil. If there’s any doubt, the best thing to do is to check with a qualified estate planning attorney.