Estate Planning Law
A codicil to a will is a testamentary document that either entirely or partially changes your last will and testament (will). It’s an easy way to keep your will up to date. A codicil does not replace your will. Instead, it’s an additional document that amends your existing will by adding, subtracting, or altering will provisions.
People often use a codicil to make small changes to their will rather than revoking and creating an entirely new will. An experienced estate planning attorney is a good source of legal advice. They can help you decide if a codicil is best for your situation. An attorney can also help you create your codicil.
Low-cost do-it-yourself (DIY) estate planning is possible in some simple cases and can be found on our companion site, FindLaw.com.
The term codicil, from the Latin codicillus, translates to “little book.” It’s a short document that changes a larger writing.
In estate planning, a codicil is an amendment to your will that adds, removes, or changes provisions in your will. It is a separate document the testator (the person who created the will) makes according to the same legal requirements as a will.
There are many reasons why you may want to change your will. Some updates, such as changing who gets your golf clubs, are simple and only affect one will provision. The advantage of a codicil is that it is an easy and cost-effective way to make these simple changes.
The disadvantage of a codicil is that you end up with two documents, your will and the codicil. One purpose of estate planning is to document your final wishes for what happens to your property or who will care for your minor children after you die. But if you lose your codicil, the change you wanted won’t get incorporated into your will, preventing your family members from following your wishes. So, it’s essential to store your codicil with your will.
Another disadvantage of using a codicil is that it can make your will confusing. You can have as many codicils to your will as you need. But at some point, the number of codicils can become confusing, making it difficult for your loved ones to understand your wishes.
Following are some instances when you can use a codicil:
- You buy new property that you want to give to a specific person.
- A beneficiary (a person to whom you’re leaving property) you named in your will dies.
- You want to add a provision for the support of your pet after your death.
- You want to change your personal representative.
Significant changes to your will can impact many provisions throughout the document. For example, you may need to change several provisions in your will to add testamentary trust. In this case, using a codicil can create confusion. But by revoking and making a new will, you create a new document that is clear and consistent with your wishes. The disadvantage of this method is that it can be expensive and time-consuming.
You should consider creating a new will when making a significant, comprehensive change to your will. For example:
- You’re making many changes.
- You want to add a testamentary trust to your will that requires changes to several will provisions.
- You inherit a large sum of money or other property and want to make significant changes to how your property is distributed.
Whether it’s better to use a codicil or create a new will depends on your situation. An experienced estate planning attorney can explain the advantages of each. Remember that some estate planning attorneys will not make a codicil for a will they didn’t draft. You may have to pay for a new will if you choose to use a new attorney.
To create a codicil to your will, follow these steps:
- Read your current will. Make sure you understand what each provision does. You want to avoid making an unintended change to your original will.
- Be specific that you are changing your will. In your codicil, be clear that it is you who is making the change. Specify the date you’re making the change and identify your will, including the date you created it. Using dates can help clarify your intentions if there’s a dispute over your will.
- Be specific about what you are changing in your will. State whether you’re amending your entire will or changing particular provisions. If you’re changing specific provisions, clearly identify those provisions with the change(s) you want to make.
- Sign the codicil following all the formalities required for a will in your state. In most states, you must be of sound mind and sign your will in front of a notary or witnesses. In some cases, you must have your will both notarized and witnessed. Check with a local estate planning attorney if you’re unsure what your state law requires. If you don’t execute your codicil correctly, your final wishes may not be honored.
- Store your codicil with your will and other estate planning documents. Your codicil modifies your will, so keeping the documents together is essential. If your codicil gets lost, no one will know that you changed your will. It’s a good idea to let your executor (the person who administers your estate) know about your codicil.
A will codicil is a legal document that lets you add, remove, or change provisions in your will. It can be a cost-effective way to make simple changes to your will because it eliminates the need to create a new will. You must follow the same requirements for creating a will when you make a codicil.
You can create a codicil yourself or get the help of an estate planning attorney. An estate planning attorney will charge you for the work. But they’ll also ensure your codicil is clear, specific, and legally enforceable.
Together with other estate planning documents, such as a living will or power of attorney, a codicil can ensure that you have a comprehensive estate plan that clearly expresses what you want to happen in the event of your incapacity or death.
Everyday legal matters can become complex and stressful. Keeping your estate plan up to date is no exception. Creating a codicil can ensure your will accurately reflects your changing life circumstances. A qualified estate planning lawyer can explain the advantages of using a codicil. They can also tell you how to create one or create it for you.
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