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Should you rewrite your will or add a codicil?

The odds are high that the first will you write won't be your last -- especially if you do things the way that you're supposed to and prepare a will while you're still fairly young. Over time, it is probably going to become necessary to change at least some of the provisions in your will as your children age, go to college, get married or have children of their own.

Should you just start over from scratch with a whole new will, or should you simply amend the one that you have with a codicil?

A codicil is usually a fairly short document and its sole purpose is to amend the existing last will and testament you've already created. It's far easier to add a codicil to a will than to entirely re-write one, but they're best used in certain circumstances:

  • You want to bequeath specific items to one or more of your heirs that you didn't address in the first will. For example, say your will was written before your husband gave you a pair of expensive diamond earrings that you want to go to your granddaughter. A codicil is perfect to make that adjustment.
  • The changes don't drastically conflict with the terms of your previous will. For example, your daughter marries and you want to make sure that the there's no confusion about who you are naming as a beneficiary. A codicil can clarify the name change without significantly changing the will.

On the other hand, it may be time to rewrite the entire will if you are making significant changes to an existing will or entirely changing the distribution of your personal effects and other assets:

  • You wish to disinherit someone that was previously a beneficiary in your will, like a son-in-law that is now divorced from your daughter.
  • You want to add a beneficiary, like a new spouse.
  • There are already a couple existing codicils to your will. That can create confusion and sometimes end up with one clause contradicting another.

An estate planning attorney can help you decide if a codicil to your current will is acceptable or you need a whole rewrite. For more information, please talk to an attorney today.

Source: the balance, "What is a Codicil?," accessed Aug. 10, 2017

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