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What is a Codicil?

Small Changes vs. Big Changes

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A Codicil is a legal document that changes specific provisions of a Last Will and Testament but leaves all of the other provisions unchanged. As long as you are mentally competent, you can change, modify, update, or completely revoke your Last Will and Testament at any time. But the question becomes, when should you make a Codicil and when should you write an entire new Last Will?

Making Minor Changes

While there aren't really any written rules as to when a Codicil instead of an entire new Last Will and Testament is required, the general rule is that if the changes that you want to make are minor - adding or deleting specific bequests, changing who will serve as Personal Representative, updating a beneficiary's or Personal Representative's legal name due to marriage or divorce - then a simple Codicil will cover these types of changes.

Making Major Changes

On the other hand, if the changes that you want to make are significant - adding a new spouse as a beneficiary, completely cutting out a beneficiary, changing from distributions to family members to distributions to charity or vice versa - then a new Last Will should be considered.

What About Multiple Codicils?

What if you've made a series of three or four simple Codicils over the past 10-15 years and you want to make another minor change? Then consider consolidating all of your changes into a brand new Last Will - this will prove to be helpful to your Personal Representative who will have a single document to follow instead of piecing together the provisions of four or five separate documents.

The Legalities of Codicils

If you're considering making a change to your Last Will and Testament, don't simply mark up your Last Will and stick it back in the drawer. Why? Because a Codicil must be signed with the same formalities as the original Last Will, so your hand written changes will, depending on applicable state law, either void the Last Will or be ignored. Instead, ask your estate planning attorney to prepare the Codicil for you so that it will be legally valid and binding on all of your beneficiaries.

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