Are codicils effective in preventing a will contest?

On Behalf of | Jan 17, 2024 | Estate Planning

Heirs can litigate an estate if they believe the wishes of a decedent were not clear, even if expressed in a last will and testament. You might have heard of codicils and believe adding one to your will could forestall the possibility that your family members might take your executor to court.

A codicil has its uses as an estate planning tool. However, it may still open the door for estate contests.

How codicils work

A codicil allows you to modify your will without drafting a new one. Codicils function like amendments to your will. You can utilize a codicil to add or remove heirs, change property distributions and name new executors. You may also continue adding codicils to update your will over time.

The possibility of estate litigation

While creating a codicil lets you express your estate wishes, they do not always minimize the chances of someone contesting your will. Upset heirs sometimes argue improper influence or mental incapacity when litigating a will, and they can do the same with a codicil. They may even believe undue influence is the reason you made a codicil in the first place.

The risk of litigation can also rise if you create multiple codicils. Each codicil must follow the same signing and witnessing rules as your original will to remain valid. This adds to the possibility of mistakes when composing a codicil, or creates more ambiguity and greater complexity to your will that can invite a lawsuit.

New wills instead of codicils

Composing a codicil only modifies a prior will without cancelling it. If you want to completely invalidate a previous will, a better move is to write one from scratch that explicitly voids the previous document so a court does not consider the old will valid. Thanks to advances in computer software, drafting a new will is quite simple and might make a codicil unnecessary.

People filing probate cases went up 50% across Florida from 2011 to 2021, demonstrating that state probate courts are increasingly busy with probate cases. Review your options so you make an estate contest less likely and help your estate pass to your heirs more quickly.