Using a Codicil to Update a Will

Have you ever heard of “planned obsolescence?” It is the idea that certain products are purposely designed to be replaced within a short period of time. Sometimes the product breaks and cannot be repaired, while other times the product simply goes out of fashion.

Cell phones are a common example. The longer you have a phone the worse it seems to work, newer versions are always coming out, and if you break your phone it’s almost as cheap to get a new phone as it is to fix the one you have.

Estate planners sometimes get accused of selling plans that incorporate elements of planned obsolescence because we recommend updating your estate plan every 5 years or so. However, we aren’t designing products that don’t work after a set period of time on purpose. Estate plans need to be refreshed every few years because estate planning laws and families are always changing. When you buy and sell property, a new child is born, or get married or split up, your estate plan needs to be changed to reflect that.

Estate plans also need updating as the tax laws change. The big tax law that was passed in late 2017 significantly changed the federal estate tax laws. Many people were able to simplify their estate plans thanks to the new law, which makes their long-term implementation and administration cheaper. It is therefore worth spending money to create a new plan now because the old plan will be more expensive in the long run.

Sometimes estate plans must be completely redrafted because the law or a person’s life has changed so radically that the old plan cannot be fixed. Other times it is possible to quickly update an existing plan by adopting a codicil.

A codicil is a way to update or change a will without completely re-doing the underlying document. The word codicil literally means “little codex,” which is a little bit of writing on a small piece of writing material that is used to add to or change something about a larger piece of writing.

Because it becomes part of the will it is modifying, a codicil has many similar characteristics. It typically has a similar title and a similar form, and it must absolutely be adopted in a similar matter. This means it must be signed in front of witnesses and notarized.

Our firm frequently uses codicils to update estate plans after a new child has been born, or when a piece of property mentioned in a previous estate plan has been sold.

If it has been a few years since you last created or updated your estate plan, it is time to give your plan a check-up. Schedule an appointment with an experienced estate planning attorney who can make sure changes in the law have not messed up your plan, and who can go through your plan with you to make sure all the people and properties mentioned in it are accurate.