We cannot overstate the importance of having a sound estate plan. Remember, if you do not have a will, the state has one for you, and the state's plan may be exactly what you do not want to happen to your property. The only way to make sure your property is distributed according to your wishes is to develop an estate plan.
A mistake that people who have a will often make is to file the will in the safe deposit box and forget about it. Things change, and you should revise your will accordingly. We talked about changing a will with a codicil in our last post, and we touched on another option referred to as a separate writing or written statement.
You can supplement your will with a separate writing. Testators use a separate writing to make sure specific items go to specific people. For example, if you want to give your engagement ring to your niece and your pearl necklace to your cousin, you would include all the information in the separate writing. In Michigan, though, a separate writing cannot distribute cash.
Unlike the codicil, the writing does not need the signatures of witnesses. It does, however, need to be signed by the testator at the end or in the testator's handwriting. It is always a good idea to be specific about the items on the list -- "my 1928 Model T Ford" is better than "my antique car."
The biggest advantage with the writing is that the testator can update or amend it at any time without having to amend the will and without having to round up a couple of witnesses.
You can write a new will. One of the benefits of technology is that writing a new will is just as easy as writing a codicil. Word processing has put fountain-pen-wielding scribes out of business: We can repaginate and insert and replace words and names with a few keystrokes.
There are important details, though, that cannot be overlooked. We'll get into those in our next post.
Source: Michigan Pleading and Practice (2d ed.), Part V, Chap. 99: Probate/Wills in General, August 2015, via WestlawNext