New Will vs. Codicil

Changes to your will

There may come a time when you want to make changes to your will. Part of what I do when I create your estate planning documents is to craft the documents in a way that cuts down on the need for revisions later in life. But sometimes, revisions are unavoidable. If/when you do need a revision, should you draft a codicil (that is, an amendment or addition)? Or should you draft an entirely new will?

You = me

When I say “you,” I really mean “me” (or at least someone like me). Non-attorneys are allowed to draft their own estate planning documents, but the results can be disastrous if the documents are drafted incorrectly. So let’s assume you come to me and say, “I now want to leave 75% to Anne and 25% to Bob.” Before typewriters and word processors, a codicil would have been your best bet. The attorney fee would be a lot lower to draft a codicil than it would be to write out an entirely new will.

Cloning sheep

But we live in a different world. To quote Jerry Seinfeld, “We’re cloning sheep now.” You might be able to provide me with an electronic copy of your will. Making a few changes to such a copy can be a very easy process. At the very least, you should have a paper copy that I can scan and then use Optical Character Recognition software on. This will be more time-intensive than an electronic copy, but it won’t take much more time than a codicil would.

Are codicils bad?

Why do I appear to be so against codicils? First, a codicil requires the same formalities (attested in front of and signed by two witnesses) as a will, so there’s really no advantage there. Second, a codicil is an extra document that must be kept track of and eventually submitted to the court when you pass. More documents means more of a chance of something getting lost or being missed. Finally, a codicil can be misinterpreted. What if it revokes an entire Article of your will? The revocation might be clear, but perhaps another Article of your will depends upon the first Article. What is a court to do when faced with these documents? There’s less of a chance of something like this happening when an entirely new will is drafted.

I hope you’ll contact me when faced with these sorts of issues so that I can provide you with peace of mind regarding your estate plan.

–Joel Dendiu

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