The last will and testament is often the first legal document people consider when starting estate planning. Having a will is arguably the most important step in the estate planning process as a will typically names a personal representative for your estate and names beneficiaries to assist in the probate process. However, sometimes life happens, and things change. If so, you may not want to draft an entirely new will. Thankfully, you don’t have to if the changes you wish to make are relatively small. You can draft a “codicil” as an addendum to your will and make necessary changes.
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What Changes Can I Make?
If you already have an existing will, you, as the will maker or “testator,” still have the power to make minor changes to your will without invalidating your original will. Some of the changes often made with codicils include:
- Adding new beneficiaries
- Removing beneficiaries
- Editing which specific gifts you would like to give to beneficiaries
- Editing names of beneficiaries who have changed their name or gotten married
- Changing the personal representative
These changes are often seen in codicils because they tend to be small in comparison to the entire will. Additionally, there is no limit on the number of codicils you can draft for your will. However, if you make many changes to your original over the years, it may be wise to redo your entire will to ensure all your updated wishes are in one place.
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What Do I Need to Do to Draft a Codicil?
A codicil is a legal document just the same as a will. Because it directly impacts your overall estate plan, you must consult with your state’s laws to ensure your codicil is effective. Under the Uniform Probate Code (UPC), the requirements to draft a codicil are the same as those to draft a will. The testator typically must:
- Be of sound mind (legally competent)
- Not be subject to undue influence
Due to the importance of respecting a testator’s intent, many states require a notary public to notarize a codicil. This ensures that the person signing the will is the person they say they are and that they are legally competent. Additionally, you should sign a self-proving affidavit to offer further documentation that you are the one making the changes to your will. Some states allow ae self-proving affidavit to prove that it is valid without witnesses having to testify in court.
Codicil vs. New Will
If you have previously drafted a will, a codicil may be appropriate when you want to edit a specific bequest you have previously made. There may be many parts of the will you are comfortable with leaving the same; therefore, you may not need a whole new will.
However, if you want to make multiple changes or you created multiple codicils in the past, it may be time to draft a new will. When there are multiple codicils to a will, a will contest may ensue.
A will contest happens when someone who believes they are entitled to inherit from your estate challenges the validity of your estate planning documents. They will petition the probate court to make the personal representative prove that the documents submitted to the probate court are indeed the testator’s final wishes. This process is often long, expensive, and stressful for your loved ones.
Drafting a Codicil
Ensuring your final wishes are exactly what you intend is an important process in overall estate planning. However, sometimes life happens, and things change. Sometimes you outlive people you wanted to inherit from your estate, or sometimes you drift apart from someone you trusted as your personal representative. Whatever the reason, you don’t want to leave something in your will that you no longer want to happen. A codicil is a quicker and more cost-effective option if the change is small.
Drafting a New Will
If you believe your changes are significant and can’t be simplified in a codicil, you can use Trust & Will’s do-it-yourself estate planning forms to help you draft a new will. If you are unsure or would like legal advice, you may want to find an experienced estate planning attorney in your area.