What is a codicil to a will?

Codicils modify the terms of your last will and testament. They can change how your estate is divided and who gets what.

Zack Sigel

Zack Sigel

Published December 11, 2018

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A codicil is an amendment to a last will and testament. If you’re unhappy with the terms of your will as originally written, you can add a codicil to it. The codicil will modify the terms of the will, including adding new terms or revoking old ones.

Codicils can be used to add a new beneficiary or subtract one. You can also use a codicil to change what types of property and assets you want your beneficiaries to have. A codicil can function like an addendum appended to the will itself, or it can be a separate document.

Codicils help keep you will up to date. You may want to add one whenever you reach a new milestone in your life, such as getting married or having a child. Codicils can also tighten up the terms of the will if they are unclear. However, in most cases, instead of adding a codicil, simply creating a new will may be a more effective way to adjust the terms of your current will.

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What can you do with a codicil?

A codicil can affect the loved ones named in your will in certain ways:

  • You can add or remove beneficiaries, including living trusts or testamentary trusts.
  • You can name new contingent beneficiaries.
  • You can nominate a new executor, co-executors, or contingent executors of your estate. (Read more about the role of the executor.)
  • You can name a new guardian, co-guardians, or contingent guardians of your minor children.
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The codicil can also affect the assets in your estate, including which property goes to whom. You can use the codicil to add or remove specific bequests or change the beneficiaries of specific bequests.

How do you add a codicil?

To add a codicil to you will, first you need to draft one, or have a lawyer do it. You need to make sure the terms of the codicil do not conflict with those of the will itself, which could cause the will to be invalidated.

A codicil must generally be executed with the same formalities as a will, which vary by state. In most cases, as with a will, two witnesses need to sign the codicil for it to be valid. They don’t need to be the same witnesses that signed your will.

To help your heirs avoid a headache after you die, bring the witnesses to a notary and have him or her notarize the “self-proved” section of the codicil. The self-proving affidavit makes it so that your witnesses won't have to give in-person testimony to prove that you really wrote and signed the will.

The codicil may be attached to your physical will documents. Your will may also be reprinted with the codicil in place, but it will have to be independently executed.

Can someone with power of attorney amend a will?

Your loved ones’ power of attorney does not allow them to make changes to your will at all, including adding a codicil, revoking the will, or creating a new will in your name. In order to create or amend a will, you must have testamentary capacity, meaning that you’re of sound mind and not under coercion.

What happens after you add a codicil?

When you amend your will, all terms the will remain in force, with the addition of the codicil's term. The terms of the will plus the codicil constitute your new last will and testament.

If it’s a separate document, keep your codicil in the same place as your will.

Any version of your will that doesn't contain the codicil should be destroyed. If an older version of your will exists, it can be used to contest the new version of your will.

Let your loved ones know that an updated will exists and that older versions of the will are no longer valid. If the new will is missing or destroyed, the probate judge may refer to copies of your revoked wills to determine your intentions after you die.

Making a new will vs. adding a codicil

Codicils are no longer as useful as they used to be. That’s because they’re from a time when wills were handwritten or typed on a typewriter and updating a will meant retyping the whole thing. These days, wills can be easily revised with computer software.

For that reason, many people create a new will when they want to update the terms of their current will. (Note that creating a new will revokes all previous wills only if it specifically states that it does so.) Creating a new will comes with certain benefits and doing so may be more effective if any of the following apply to you:

Your estate has become much more complicated

When you wrote your original will, you may have had fewer beneficiaries or assets. If you want to update your will to include new property, new wealth, or new people you want to benefit from your estate, then a codicil may not offer the complexity of a new will.

You’re worried about the clarity of your current will

If your current will is unclear, a codicil may help. But to be absolutely certain that your will’s terms are interpreted according to your wishes, writing up a new will can tie up loose ends and clarify the text. In fact, a codicil may make things even more unclear if its terms contradict with the will.

Your current will is missing or destroyed

We do not recommend adding a codicil to a will you can't locate. Such a codicil may not hold up during probate, or the terms of the codicil will be the only part of your estate plan to hold up. If you lost all the copies of current will, writing up a new one may be your best option.

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Managing Editor

Zack Sigel

Managing Editor

Zack Sigel is a SEO managing editor at Policygenius. He covers personal finance, comprising mortgages, investing, deposit accounts, and more. His previous work included writing about film and music.

Policygenius’ editorial content is not written by an insurance agent. It’s intended for informational purposes and should not be considered legal or financial advice. Consult a professional to learn what financial products are right for you.

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