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What is a Codicil?

A codicil amends an existing will. It is used to make minor changes to a will instead of rewriting the entire document. Because a codicil amends a legal document, it is subject to the same legal standards as the original document.

Reasons for adding a codicil

Several circumstances may make it necessary to change your will. For example, you may need to change your executor, add or remove beneficiaries, or adjust the will to reflect your current financial circumstances. Other reasons for adding a codicil include changes in burial arrangements and protecting your estate from new tax requirements. A codicil may also change guardians for minor heirs or remove guardianship provisions for adult children.

Writing a Codicil

There are four parts to a codicil: title, opening paragraph, changes, and closing paragraph. The following reviews each of these in detail.

Title

Your title should reflect the document you are amending. For the codicil title, add the words “Codicil to the” before the title of your will. In other words, if your will is titled “Last Will and Testament of John Doe,” your codicil title will be “Codicil to the Last Will and Testament of John Doe.”

Opening paragraph

Your opening paragraph affirms your identity, mental competency, and residence. It should also refer to the original document and its execution date. You can use a structure similar to the one below, but fill your information in where appropriate.

I [Full Legal Name], of [City, County, and State], being of sound mind, declare that this [Codicil Title] is effective on this date and hereby amends my Last Will and Testament dated [Original Will Date] as follows.

Making changes

You can use a codicil to amend, delete or add a provision to your will. Include the article number you are changing and specify in detail how you are changing the provisions. Use specific language for each type of change. Use these examples as guidelines.

  • Amending: Article 2 shall be amended to state [describe changes]
  • Deleting: Article 3 shall be deleted in its entirety
  • Adding: Article 7 is hereby added as follows [add a provision not included in your original will]

The type of change you make depends on the reason you need it. For instance, you might use an amendment to change the name of an heir who recently married or divorced their partner. If you are removing an asset you no longer own, deletion is appropriate. However, if you are changing your will to reflect current tax law, you may want to add a provision.

Closing paragraph

The closing paragraph should include a controlling statement and an affirmation of your existing will. The controlling statement ensures that your codicil trumps any conflict with the original document. The affirmation simply states that you still agree with the remainder of the will. Here are the basic structures for these two statements.

If any statement in this [Codicil Title] contradicts my Last Will and Testament dated [Original Will Date], this Codicil shall control. In all other respects, I reaffirm and republish my Last Will and Testament dated [Original Will Date].

Finalizing your codicil

Just like your original will, the codicil must be executed. This means it must be signed and dated in the presence of witnesses. The number of required witnesses varies by state; most require 2 - 3 witnesses. Your state may also require notarization. Even if it does not, having the document notarized can help legitimize your codicil if it is contested in court.

Including affidavits

It is to your advantage to include affidavits before each signature. These sworn statements provide verification that you understand what you are signing and that you signed it yourself in front of witnesses. Although it sounds redundant, these affidavits can give your codicil greater legal standing in court than a plain signature.

Deciding to rewrite your will

Codicils first came into use during the 15th century. At that time, legal documents were painstakingly handwritten and could exceed 20 pages. Using a codicil meant that the whole thing did not have to be rewritten. The invention of the typewriter meant documents did not have to be handwritten, but it could still take hours to retype lengthy wills. Codicils remained popular for this reason.

Today, document storage makes it easier than ever to retrieve and rewrite a will. There is even software that will allow you to create a will with little or no legal expertise. Using a codicil is largely a matter of preference today. However, there are circumstances in which rewriting your will makes more sense.

You need to make major changes

If you are adding a new spouse or removing a beneficiary, rewriting your will is a better option than adding a codicil. Clearly stating your wishes in a new will leaves less room to contest it after you are gone.

Tax laws have substantially changed

Probate and estate taxes generate a significant amount of tax revenue each year. Although some exemptions are in place for immediate family members, changing your beneficiaries could have tax repercussions. If the codicil does not address these concerns, your heirs may face a substantial tax bill. In this case, it is better to write a new will that reflects updated tax concerns.

You have multiple codicils

If you have already made several changes to your will, it may be time to write a new one. Multiple codicils may conflict with each other, making your wishes unclear. If there is confusion about your intent, the matter may be left up to a probate judge. The judge can decide not to honor some or all your codicils. He or she may also invalidate your entire will, which means your estate would be settled in probate court.

If you decide to rewrite your will

You must do more than create a new will; you must destroy or invalidate all copies of the old one. If you choose to invalidate your will, write “REVOKED” on each page, then include your signature and initials.

Retaining your codicil

Once your codicil has been properly signed and notarized, you should store it with your will. If anyone else has a copy of your will, you must provide them with a copy of the codicil. Fire or natural disasters may destroy documents. Having multiple copies of both documents helps ensure that a valid copy remains in existence.

Formal legal language can be hard to understand. If you need help making sure your codicil is worded correctly, ask an Expert. They can provide advice and recommendations based on their experience. You do not have to make an appointment. Experts provide customized answers from the convenience of your home. 

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