Legal Tip of the Week!
This week’s tip came about as a request from an existing client who wanted me to discuss the topic of codicils. So here goes…
A codicil is nothing more than a short amendment (1-2 page document) that addresses minor changes in an existing Last Will & Testament (“Will”). You may have prepared an elaborate Will a few years ago and you just don’t want to have to redo all of that only to name a new Executor as the current one named in your Will informed you that he was relocating and will no longer be in a position to serve; or, you just discovered that your childhood friend who you trust more than anyone else in the world has moved to NJ and has agreed to take on the role of being a successor Guardian for your minor children after your sibling.
When confronted with situations like these, you may be able to establish a codicil to address these changes instead of preparing brand new Wills. In a codicil (so long as you properly follow the same formalities of execution as you would do in a Will), the minor changes are incorporated into the existing Will. And, depending on the type of changes being made, it is possible for the Testator to make these changes himself or herself without having to go to an attorney. While I always recommend consulting with your estate planning attorney first before proceeding to undertake these changes on your own, it may very well be that your attorney will agree that the simple changes you have discussed could very well be taken care of by you.
However, note that there are other situations (however minor you think they might be), when the setting up of a codicil may not be a wise decision. For example, if you want to disinherit a beneficiary or even slightly alter a beneficiary’s rights under a Will, it is almost always a good idea to prepare a brand new Will revoking all others before it to avoid the confusion a codicil could create. With a new Will, the old Will is revoked and the new document will speak to your clear intent as to why you have chosen to undertake certain actions. This, in the long run, can potentially avoid expensive legal battles between beneficiaries down the road.