Codicil Definition

What Is a Codicil?

A codicil is an addendum of any kind to a will. Codicils can alter, change, add to or subtract from the provisions in the will. They can be used to keep a will and testament current and up to date.

A codicil can be used to add, remove, or change provisions in a will, as long as the changes are not too significant. It must be executed with the same formalities as the will itself, and it must be signed and witnessed in the same way. A codicil is typically used when someone wants to make a few small changes to their will, rather than creating a new will from scratch.

Key Takeaways

  • Codicils are used to change a will.
  • They must be created by the original creator of the will.
  • Codicils are separate documents from wills—acting as an addendum to the will.
  • These documents can change a will completely or void the original will.
  • Most states require two witnesses for a codicil, although some allow them to be notarized.

Understanding a Codicil

Codicils must be created by the original creator of the will. They are separate documents in and of themselves and can lead to either minor or major changes in the will. All codicils must meet the same legal administrative requirements as the original will and testament, and they must each affirm that the original will is valid except for the changes outlined inside.

Codicils derive their name from the Middle English term codicill, which is from the Anglo-French codicille and the Latin codicillus, which meant a writing tablet and codex, which meant book. Therefore, the term codicil translates into the literal meaning of a little codex, or little book, which is a little bit of writing on a small piece of writing material, used to add to or change something about a larger piece of writing.

Codicil adds, subtracts, or change the provisions of a will—and their use can be traced back to ancient times when, for instance, an heir needed to be named.

When to Use a Codicil

Codicils are generally used to make minor changes to wills. This can include updating the name of a beneficiary due to marriage or divorce, adding specific requests, or changing your personal representative.

Other changes that a codicil could account for are changes in potential guardians for your children or changes to your end-of-life wishes, such as funeral arrangements. But if you're making major changes, it's usually best to make a new will.

Major changes that may warrant a new will include adding a new spouse or beneficiary, removing a beneficiary, changing distributions among beneficiaries, or getting divorced. When making a new will, ensure that copies of the old will are destroyed.

How to Write a Codicil

o write a codicil, you will need to follow the same formalities as when you wrote your will. This means that you will need to sign the codicil in front of at least two witnesses, who must also sign the document.

Here are the steps to follow when writing a codicil:

  1. Begin by stating at the top of the document that it is a codicil to your existing will.
  2. Specify the date of the codicil and the date of your will.
  3. Clearly state the changes that you are making to your will. Be as specific as possible and include the exact language that you want to add, remove, or change.
  4. Sign and date the codicil in front of at least two witnesses.
  5. Have the witnesses sign the codicil in your presence.

It is important to keep the original will and the codicil together, so that they can be easily located and read together. It is also a good idea to inform your executor and any other relevant parties about the changes that you have made to your will.

If you need help writing a codicil, you may want to consult with an attorney who specializes in estate planning. They can provide you with guidance and ensure that your codicil is legally valid.

Special Considerations

Even though a codicil is technically an addendum to the original will, it can change the terms of the will entirely or null and void the original will. Because of the serious nature of codicils and their power to change the entire will, two witnesses are usually required to sign when a codicil is added, much like in creating the original will itself. Some states, however, have loosened the legal regulations surrounding codicils and now allow for them to notarized.

You may be familiar with codicils from movie scenes in which a will codicil is dramatically revealed at the last minute to the astonishment of family members. However, in real life, codicils very rarely produce much drama and are used more for changes that don’t warrant drafting up an entirely new will. Some legal experts believe that you shouldn’t just rely on a codicil, but that it may be advisable to draw up a new will altogether if changes are warranted, especially since much of the legal proceedings are similar.

Does a Codicil Have to Be Notarized?

The requirements for a codicil vary state-by-state. Most states require two witness signatures for codicils, while some states allow the document to be notarized.

Can I Have Multiple Codicils?

Yes, you can have an unlimited number of codicils. However, multiple codicils can create confusion or contradictions.

When Should I Use a Codicil Instead of a Will?

Codicil are addendums to wills. They are useful for minor changes to wills, such as updating names of beneficiaries after a marriage or divorce. In cases where you need to make major changes to your will, such as adding or removing beneficiaries, it might be best to skip the codicil and make a new will.

How Much Does a Codicil Cost?

If you need to consult a lawyer to add a codicil to your will it may cost $200 to $400 an hour. 

The Bottom Line

A codicil is a legal document that allows a person to make changes to their will without having to create an entirely new will. It is used to add, remove, or modify provisions in a will, as long as the changes are not too significant. A codicil must be signed and witnessed in the same way as the original will, and it must be executed with the same formalities. Codicils are typically used when a person wants to make a few minor changes to their will, rather than creating a new one from scratch.

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