When it comes to estate planning, a last will often serves as the cornerstone. But what happens if you want to make changes to your will? Enter the codicil.
A codicil is a legal document that allows you to amend specific provisions in your last will. Let’s dig into what a codicil is, how it works, and when you might need one.
Understanding a Codicil
A codicil lets you make minor changes to your will without having to rewrite the entire document. Think of it as a legal “P.S.” that attaches to your will. If you want to update the name of a beneficiary, add or delete bequests, or change your personal representative, a codicil can help.
How to Create a Codicil
Creating a codicil involves some specific steps. You must write the codicil, sign it, and have two witnesses sign it as well. Keep this document alongside your original will to ensure they’re read together. This maintains the integrity of your estate plan and keeps everything in one place.
Risks of Using a Codicil
Although a codicil can be convenient, it’s not without risks. One major risk is that it could make your will confusing, especially if you have multiple codicils. Confusion could lead a probate judge to invalidate your will, causing your estate to be distributed according to state law rather than your wishes.
Another risk is that the codicil could get lost or separated from your original will, making it ineffective.
Making Sure Your Codicil Is Legal
If you want to ensure the legality of your codicil, don’t just scribble changes onto your will and put it back in the drawer. A codicil must follow certain legal guidelines and require the same formalities as your original will, such as witness signatures. Consult with an estate planning attorney to ensure the codicil is valid and legally binding.
When to Consider a New Will
Sometimes, making a new will is a better idea than adding a codicil. This is particularly true for substantial changes, like adding a new spouse as a beneficiary or switching from leaving assets to family members to leaving them to a charity. In such cases, draft a new will and clearly indicate that the original one is revoked.
When a Living Trust May Be a Better Option
While codicils and new wills have their merits, there are times when a living trust could be a better option for your estate planning needs. A living trust allows you to make minor changes easily through the use of a simple amendment. Living trusts also offer benefits that wills can’t, such as:
One major advantage of a living trust is the ability to avoid probate. Probate is a legal process that can be time-consuming and expensive. With a living trust, your assets can bypass probate, making the distribution to beneficiaries faster and more efficient.
Living trusts can include spendthrift clauses that protect the assets from creditors and poor spending habits of beneficiaries. If you have concerns about how beneficiaries will handle their inheritances, a living trust gives you greater control.
A living trust is more flexible than a will. You can change any aspect of the terms, and you can dictate the manner in which the heirs will receive their inheritances. For example, if you want to prolong the viability of the trust, you can instruct the trustee to provide limited distributions over an extended period of time.
In conclusion, while codicils offer a quick way to make minor changes to your will, they come with risks that could invalidate your estate plans. For more significant changes or additional features like probate avoidance and spendthrift protections, consider a living trust as a more robust estate planning tool.
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Our doors are open if you would like to engage a Westport or Glastonbury, CT estate planning lawyer to help you put a plan in place. You can send us a message to request a consultation appointment, we can be reached by phone at 860-548-1000.