Insight on Estate Planning

The AP&S Trusts & Estates Blog

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Estate Planning Pitfall – You’ve Failed to Properly Amend Your Will

Suppose you want to make a change to your will. It could be something relatively minor, such as a beneficiary is getting married and will be changing her last name. Or your daughter graduated from college and you want to name her as a successor executor.

In these circumstances, do you have to completely rewrite your will? Not usually. For these “quick fixes” you can ask your attorney to draft and execute a codicil. A codicil is a legal document that’s typically short — it can even be one or two paragraphs long — spelling out the changes. But be careful to observe all your state’s laws about amending a will.

You may have heard stories about codicils being written on the back of an envelope or have seen this happen on TV or in the movies. And it’s true that a codicil doesn’t have to be written on an attorney’s stationery to be legally binding. But there’s more.

Notably, a codicil must be signed and witnessed as required under the appropriate state law. Most important, the codicil should refer to the original will and the date of its creation. Without this reference, it can be confusing as to whether the codicil is binding.

Although a codicil may be stored with a will, and it’s probably most convenient to do so, it’s not required. However, it shouldn’t be stapled or attached to the will in any way. This is a separate document that stands on its own.

In a worst-case scenario, a family member may challenge a codicil after you’re gone. Thus, it’s important to comply with all the rules.

What if you want to make major revisions to your will, such as changes in beneficiaries or the disposition of assets? In that case, a codicil won’t suffice. Consult with your attorney and draft a new will.

About The Authors

A professional headshot of Kristin Matsko in front of windows.

Kristin N. Matsko

Kristin, Chair of the firm’s Trusts & Estates Group, counsels individuals and fiduciaries on a wide variety of trusts and estates… Read More

A professional headshot of David Riedel in front of windows.

David T. Riedel

An author and frequent lecturer on estate planning, administration and taxes, David provides responsive, sympathetic and personable counsel to his varied… Read More

A professional headshot of Kathryn Windsor in front of windows.

Kathryn S. Windsor

Kathryn is Chair of the firm’s Tax Group and represents clients in a variety of tax law matters. Her practice areas… Read More

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