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Monday, August 16, 2010

When is a Codicil not a good idea?

A Codicil is intended to make a small amendment to an otherwise satisfactory Will. For example, if you had written a Will in which you left $10,000 to Doctors Without Borders, and you want to increase the amount to $15,000, you could make a Codicil. In other words, a Codicil is not intended to make sweeping changes to distribution plans and trusts.

The risk in using a Codicil improperly is that you'll end up creating confusion either by contradicting a detail in the Will or by revoking a sentence you didn't mean to revoke.

Clients who want Codicils have learned that Codicils are cheaper than whole new Wills. Therefore, they insist that all they need is a Codicil, regardless of the professional advice that the changes they want to make are too extensive for a Codicil. Never mind that they want to use a thumb tack to hold up a circus tent; they just won't spend the money to get what they need.

The end result for some people is a Will that is amended, re-amended and amended again by numerous Codicils. I've seen as many as six Codicils changing one Will. The odds of something being messed up in a case like that are astronomical. A Codicil is a useful tool, but you have to use it properly for it to be effective.

The other danger in using a Codicil is that it can become separated from the Will it's supposed to amend. If the Codicil becomes separated, the executor might not know about the changes that were supposed to be made. When I've done Codicils for clients, I've always recommended that the Will and Codicil be stapled together, put together into a folder or envelope, and put into the safe deposit box or other secure storage place.

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