You should read your will at least every few years to make sure it is current. It is amazing how many people think they designated one person to serve as executor only to discover they designated someone who they now believe would be totally inappropriate – or perhaps has since passed away. Same thing happens on designated beneficiaries.
So once you discover you do need to make some changes, what do you do? It is sometimes easier to add a codicil than to write a new will. But if the changes to your will are too great or involve changes to multiple sections of your will, or you have previously done several codicils to your will, this avenue may not be appropriate. My experience suggests codicils can also increase the success of challenges to the estate plan.
A codicil is a legal amendment to your will that allows you to make changes or additions. The codicil is a separate sheet of paper added to your will that must be signed by you in the presence of two witnesses and by each witness as well.
You may find it necessary to add a codicil to your will because of:
- a change in tax laws,
- the birth of a child or grandchild, or
- the death of a beneficiary or a named executor.
If you write a codicil to your will, make sure you specify which clause(s) of your last will will be changed or amended by the codicil. If a new provision is being used to replace the one which has been revoked, the codicil should always state that you confirm the will in all other respects. The most frequent reason for making a codicil is when a beneficiary of your will, or the person named as executor or executrix in your will, dies during your lifetime.
The problem with codicils is, they can be confusing. Using a codicil to name a new beneficiary because one you named in the will has died is simple. Naming two new beneficiaries replacing one who has died, or changing the distribution of your estate via a codicil risks confusion and problems for your executor.
Writing a new will instead of adding a codicil to your existing will is the best choice if the changes to your will are more than a single, simple change as described above. If you find that a change is needed, call my office and let’s discuss which alternative will best serve your situation.