What Is a Codicil to a Will? Why and How to Write One

A codicil is a document that amends your existing will. It's a way to make changes without having to redo your will.
Roberta Pescow
By Roberta Pescow 
Published
Edited by Tina Orem

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A codicil is a legal document that modifies, amends or revokes all or part of a will without replacing the existing will. Codicils allow people to make small changes to a will without having to write a whole new will.

What is the purpose of a codicil?

A codicil allows you to change your will easily and quickly when your life situation changes. The original will remains valid (unless the codicil revokes it)

Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute. Codicil. Accessed Jul 11, 2023.
.

Some modifications that a codicil might address include:

  • Adding new beneficiaries as your family grows.

  • Removing beneficiaries who died or became estranged.

  • Replacing an executor who died or whom you no longer trust.

  • Adding or removing property, or changing who will inherit your property.

  • Adjusting cash gifts to reflect inflation.

  • Making changes that ease tax consequences for your heirs.

  • Taking into account a marriage, divorce, separation or name change.

  • Changing how you’d like your business divided.

  • Changing your minor children’s guardian.

If you need to make sweeping major changes to your will, or you’ve lost or damaged your original will, it may be wiser to create a new will. Additionally, multiple codicils may lead to confusion during probate, so at some point you may want to draw up a new will rather than create more codicils every time you want to update your estate plan.

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How to write a codicil in 8 steps

Here are the basic steps to creating a valid codicil:

  1. Decide what you’d like to change about your will.

  2. Find an estate planning attorney or online will maker to draft the codicil. Some states may have forms you can download. Be sure you understand your state’s laws and that your codicil meets your state’s requirements in order to be valid and enforceable. 

  3. Include your name, address and the current date in your codicil document.

  4. State in the document that it’s a codicil to your existing will and that it overrides your existing will.

  5. State in the document that you’re of sound mind.

  6. State clearly and precisely in the document which parts of the will you're changing and explain in detail exactly how you want things changed. Be specific.

  7. Sign your codicil. Your state may also require notarization and/or a certain number of unbiased witnesses.

  8. Store your codicil with your original will in a safe, secure place where your executor can find it. 

🤓Nerdy Tip

Crossing out portions of or writing notes on your existing will, known as a holographic codicil, can create confusion and legal challenges. Holographic codicils also aren’t always legal in all states.

What are the pros and cons of codicils?

Advantages of codicils

  • Easy and fast way to change your will. Codicils typically don’t require the time or expense that most wills do.

  • Offers flexibility to make many different kinds of changes. A codicil can cover a lot of ground with relatively little effort.

  • Helps keep your estate plan up to date. A codicil can ensure that your wishes reflect your current family and financial situation. It can also address any outdated legal language in the original will. 

  • Legally compliant way to make a change. A codicil is a more official way of updating your will compared with scribbling notes in the margins or on the back of your will. 

  • Provides a paper trail. A codicil creates a record of what you want, which can prevent squabbles or misunderstandings later. 

Disadvantages of codicils

  • Needs to be kept with the will. If your codicil becomes separated from your will, people might not implement your changes.

  • Could open the door to a will contest. A codicil that isn’t written properly or that unintentionally conflicts with the original will increases the risk that someone might contest your will.

  • Might create uncertainty. If you have multiple codicils, they might contradict each other or create confusion about what you want.

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