Should I Update My Old Will by Using a Codicil or Executing a New Will?

Well-written, estate-planning documents are drafted to be flexible and usually do not require frequent change. However, when major life events or transitions occur, estate-planning documents may need updating.

In Tennessee, the most common way to update an outdated will is to either execute a codicil or execute a new will.  The legal execution requirements in Tennessee for a codicil and a will are identical. Executing a new will simply revokes the previous will and replaces it entirely. Alternatively, a codicil amends certain parts of an existing will but keeps what is not amended intact.

When updating an outdated will my usual preference is to execute a new will.

One disadvantage of a codicil is that it must be construed with one or more other documents. This may be challenging if complex changes are made by codicil and/or multiple codicils are in existence.

The biggest disadvantage, however, of using codicils to update a will is that the will and each codicil become public records when opening the estate with the probate court. This overabundance of transparency increases the likelihood of a will contest if a beneficiary (or former beneficiary) is made aware of their beneficial rights under a will becoming adversely affected by subsequently executed codicils.

Simply executing a new will which encompasses any desired changes alleviates having to disclose prior wills and what changes may have been made over time when initiating a probate estate. It is also much easier to understand one document instead of multiple documents when determining a decedent’s testamentary intent.

Prior to the advent of computers and word processors executing a codicil was the most cost-effective way to make changes to a will because preparing a brief codicil is much less time consuming than retyping or rewriting a much longer will. With advances in technology this, however, is no longer the case. In fact, it often takes longer for an estate-planning attorney to prepare a codicil because time must be spent reviewing the old will to ensure all its provisions are current and the codicil is consistent with all its terms.

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