Creating a clear, effective, and legitimate Will is one of the most important aspects in the Estate Planning process. This is because a Will is what dictates your future (and the future of your family) after you pass. It’s critical that your Will be as straightforward as possible so that it is upheld in probate court and your final wishes are executed exactly how you envisioned.
So how can a person make changes to their Will throughout their life (which is inevitable) and feel certain that those changes are legally recognized? One way is with a codicil to Will.
Never heard of this process? That’s okay! We’ll break it down by:
A codicil is a legal document that dictates any modifications or amendments to your last Will and Testament. If, for any reason, you feel the need to change some part of your Will — which can include adding new arrangements or removing old ones — you can easily do so with a codicil.
Think of a codicil (which can be added as an addendum to your Will or be an entirely new document altogether) as a way to keep your Will up to date and reflective of your current wishes.
How a Codicil Can Benefit You
There are a number of circumstances that can precipitate the need for a codicil to a will. Perhaps you’ve reached a new milestone (like marriage or the birth of a child or grandchildren) and you want your existing Will to reflect those changes. Maybe you’ve acquired additional properties or assets you know you want to leave behind for your beneficiaries. Whatever your motivation is, here are several things you can do with a codicil:
Change your executor. If the executor you named in your original Will passes away or you feel they are no longer fit to manage your affairs, you can name someone else using a codicil. You can also add a co-executor if you feel so inclined.
Update beneficiaries. Add new (or change existing) beneficiaries to your Will with a codicil. You can also name new contingent beneficiaries.
Make note of new familial or financial circumstances. In instances where the guardian(s) you named for your children pass away or become unfit, you can use a codicil to update your guardianship wishes. You can also create a codicil to protect your beneficiaries if there are significant tax consequences not covered by your Will.
Revise end of life wishes. If you or anyone covered in your Will wants to modify their funeral or burial arrangements for any reason, a codicil can ratify those wishes.
Codicil to Will: Other Common Questions
As we covered above, there are a number of events that can make someone feel the need to update his or her Will. A Will, after all, is meant to be the outline for how you want your legacy to look after you pass away. Therefore, you should be able to change it as you mature and your perspectives, family, and financial circumstances evolve.
Here at Trust & Will, we want to make your Estate Planning journey as easy as possible, so we’ve answered the most common questions regarding how to modify your Will with a Codicil.
How do I Create a Codicil?
Creating a codicil to a Will is as simple as putting your updated wishes in writing. Do so by first reading through your current Will and making note of the changes you want made or the mistakes you want fixed.
After this, write the opening statement of your codicil and be sure to include your name, address, declaration that you’re of sound mind, and the date in which you are putting into effect the codicil.
Next, identify the specific article number in your Will that you want amended or removed. Conclude by acknowledging that your codicil should overrule anything stated in your original Will but that everything else in your Will not affected by the codicil remains intact and affirmed.
Keep in mind that in order to execute your codicil, you must sign it in the presence of at least two unbiased witnesses (i.e., anyone who is not mentioned in your Will.) Lastly, be sure to store your updated Will in a safe space like a legacy drawer.
Should I Add a Codicil or Make a New Will?
It ultimately depends on a person’s individual goals and preferences when determining whether to create a codicil to Will or an entirely new Will. Codicils originated long ago when Wills were primarily written by hand. So instead of having to re-write the entirety of a person’s Will in order to make a few changes, one could just add a codicil. With today’s advances in technology, creating a new Will and adding a codicil are relatively similar — especially since both require a signature in front of witnesses.
We’ll put it this way: If you’re making massive changes to your existing Will or you’ve misplaced or damaged your existing Will, it’s probably best to create a brand new one. If you want to simply clarify a portion of your Will or you want to make a minor change or addition, a codicil is an appropriate option.
Can I Have Multiple Codicils?
There is no legal limit to the number of codicils a person can have in his or her Will. However, the legitimacy of a Will may be called into question if it contains years upon years of unclear modifications and deletions.
Your Will should be as clear as possible so that a probate court judge deems it a valid representation of your final wishes. If a judge decides that your Will is overly confusing and therefore partially (or sometimes even entirely) invalid, it becomes the same as dying without a Will. This could lead to your estate being distributed in a way you didn’t intend.
In short, no — a codicil to a Will does not have to be notarized. However, laws and requirements vary from state to state. A codicil does have to be signed in front of at least two witnesses who are not listed as beneficiaries, guardians, or executors in your Will.
In some states, you can attach what’s called a Self-Proving Affidavit to your codicil. This is a document that is signed by you and at least two witnesses under oath before a public notary. Having this affidavit can speed up the probate process as it waives the requirement of having your witnesses appear in court to recognize the implementation of your codicil.
We understand that circumstances change throughout life, and we want to ensure that those changes are properly reflected in a person’s Will. One way to do this is with a codicil to will. So whether you’re just embarking on your Estate Planning journey or you need more help creating or making changes to your existing Will, talk to Trust & Will today!