I find that as my clients age, as their children grow up and leave the home, as their friends come and go and as the nature of their estate matures, they periodically want to change minor details in their Will, to reflect the new realities. In fact, I highly recommend reviewing your Will every three years or so, to ensure that it meets your needs. However, the changes that need to be made are often minor and it is reasonable to wonder whether it is worth the time and expense to make the change.
Historically, lawyers used a document known as a Codicil to make the changes as quickly and as inexpensively as possible. A Codicil is a short legal document that amends only the portion of your Will that needs amending. A Codicil can be drafted quickly by an experienced lawyer, on limited direction, and can then be executed and kept with your Will. And as Wills were historically typed out in long form, they were by far the method of choice for making small changes to a Will.
While that all seems well and good, without exception, I always recommend AGAINST the amendment of a Will by way of Codicil. Here’s why:
- Codicils reflect small but important changes to a Will; if a Codicil is not executed properly, is not kept with the Will, is lost or contains a typo referencing an incorrect provision in the Will, it is worthless; and
- Codicils that change gifting provisions are very indiscreet. With the original gift readily apparent in the Will, a beneficiary who receives less by Codicil, or a jealous beneficiary who receives relatively less (or who is excluded outright) by Codicil, is much more likely to contest your Will, adding trouble and pain to your beneficiaries’ lives and adding the burden of significant legal fees to your estate.
So what’s the solution for someone who just wants to make a simple change in their Will? Cut and paste. Any Will that has been drafted in the past fifteen years should have been drafted on a computer. While a lawyer’s requirement to maintain books and records doesn’t specifically mandate that an electronic copy of your Will be kept by your lawyer, in practice, this is almost always the case.
Changing a minor detail in your Will should be as easy as asking your lawyer to cut and paste a new clause into your Will and having it executed as a fresh document. If you only have a hard copy of your Will and you move to a new lawyer, you can always ask that an electronic copy be forwarded to your new lawyer – it’s yours and you’ve already paid for it.
In practice, even minor changes to your Will can now be done quickly and cost effectively – and keeping all of your testamentary information in one document makes the administration of your affairs that much easier for your estate trustee.
– Scott Young