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. 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.
What you can do with a codicil
A codicil allows the testator (writer of the will) to:
Add or remove beneficiaries, including living trusts or testamentary trusts.
Name new contingent beneficiaries.
Nominate a new executor, co-executors, or contingent executors of your estate.
Name a new guardian, co-guardians, or contingent guardians of your minor children.
Add or remove specific bequests or change the beneficiaries of specific bequests.
How to make a codicil to a will
Having an estate planning attorney make a codicil may cost less than it did to have them draft your will, but you can also write a codicil on your own. When making a codicil, you need to make sure the terms of the codicil do not conflict with those of the will itself, which could invalidate the will.
Codicils are generally just a few paragraphs long stating your name and intent, your changes to the existing will, and the date. Don't write any changes on the original document itself, which can also cause confusion during probate and leave room for legal challenges after you die. Handwritten codicils (like handwritten wills) may not be allowed in certain states.
A codicil must generally be executed with the same signing and witnessing formalities as a will, which vary by state. In most cases, 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.
You can continue to add codicils to a will, and they can all be valid as long as you follow the proper requirements set out by state law. However, if you anticipate having multiple codicils, you may be better off writing a new will.
Does a codicil to a will have to be notarized?
Notarizing a will or codicil is not required, but it can help your heirs avoid a headache after you die if you make it self-proved. Bring the witnesses to a notary and have them 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 original document. Your will may also be reprinted with the codicil in place, but it will have to be independently executed.
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. Keep your codicil in the same place as your original 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.
Learn more about where to store a will and other important estate documents.
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. Creating a new will comes with certain benefits and doing so may be more effective. You want not to want to use a codicil when:
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.
Learn which types of assets go through probate.
You’re worried about the clarity of your current will
If your current will is ambiguous 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 to prevent any litigation (like from a will contest) after you pass away.
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 in probate court, 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 your will, writing up a new one may be your best option.