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First and most important point: Do not make handwritten changes to your Will of Trust! Not an underscore, footnote, hashtag, spelling correction, nothing. If you do, the Surrogate Court will not accept it.

There are only two ways to properly change your Will.

(1) Start From Scratch. Eighty percent of the time that we are asked to make a simple change to a Will, it turns out we end up making three or four changes, so it makes sense to write another Will. I think most people assume that it is more expensive to re-write a Will, and it might be, but making an amendment to a Will is also fairly expensive. Primarily, because we have to go through the whole ritual of having two witnesses and an notary anyway. More on that later.

(2) Amend Your Will. Technically, you cannot amend your Will, but you can add to it. The document used to add to your Will is called a Codicil. I don’t know the origin of that word, or what it means exactly, except that it has roots in the laws of Ancient Rome, but is still commonly used in our modern world. According to popular legal dictionaries, a Codicil is “an amendment or supplement to a Will, used to explain, modify, add to, subtract from, qualify, alter, restrain or revoke provisions in an existing Will.”

(3) Problems with a Codicil. There are two problems with a Codicil. The first is that it really does not save much time nor expense. This is primarily because (just like a Will), it has to be signed in the presence of two witnesses and a notary public. This ritual is one of the reasons why it does not save you a lot of money. The other reason that it does not save you a lot of money is because any attorney qualified to create your codicil is not going to just write up a codicil for you without discussing your situation and reasons for the changes. It might take less time that it would if you were creating a brand new Will, but it still takes time, and expertise. The other problem is that the Will and Codicil may get separated, either by accident, or intentionally. If whoever finds the Will cannot find the Codicil, in which case your wishes (as stated in the Codicil) will not be honored. Sometimes, the Codicil mysteriously disappears. For example, if your old Will left everything to your two children to share equally, and the Codicil changes it so your home health care provider now gets everything upon your death, and your children find the Will and Codicil first, there is a good chance that the Codicil will not make it to the Surrogate’s Office to be probated along with the Will. For this reason, we will only use a codicil for minor changes to a Will. For example, changing the back-up executor, eliminating a deceased relative, changing your address, etc.

If you want to make changes to your Will, please give us a call, and we will be happy to discuss it with you. Again, just don’t write on it!