You’ve finally finished making a will, and you’re feeling like the accomplished and responsible adult you are. Now, you can hand it to your lawyer and executor and never think about it again, right?
Not exactly. Chances are you still have some life left to live after finishing your estate plans, and that leaves plenty of opportunities for your circumstances to change. For example, you might name a different executor or change a beneficiary.
Does that mean you have to go through the arduous process of making a whole new will? Fortunately, no. You can often just write a codicil.
What Is a Will Codicil?
A will codicil (also called an addendum) is a legal document you can use to make minor changes to a last will and testament. While you shouldn’t use it to make major updates, you can use it to execute minor amendments, such as:
- Changing your executor
- Changing the guardian for your children or pets
- Adding or removing a beneficiary
- Adding a gift to your will (like a family heirloom)
- Removing a single clause
You should not use a will codicil to account for major life changes, including:
- The birth or death of a child
- Divorce or separation from a spouse
- A significant shift in your assets or debts
- Moving to another state or country
But it’s best if you only use a will codicil once. If you need to make more than one change at a time or need to update your will again later, your best option is to create a new will.
How to Create a Will Codicil
You have a few options when it comes to making a will codicil. You can write an amendment by hand in your existing will, use a DIY legal service like Rocket Lawyer or Nolo, or hire an estate planning attorney.
If you choose to write your own codicil or use an online service, have it reviewed by an attorney anyway to ensure it’s legally binding. Otherwise, you risk having your entire will thrown out, which means your estate could end up having to go through probate court.
Regardless of which method you use, creating a valid will codicil requires it to be:
- Created by the person who created the original will (the principal or testator), who has to be of sound mind
- Made willingly and not under duress or through coercion
- Clear and straightforward
- Signed and dated
In some states, your will codicil may have to be notarized as well.
You also have the option of attaching a self-proving affidavit to your codicil, which is a document you and your witnesses sign under oath in the presence of a notary public. A self-proving affidavit states that you waive the requirement for your witnesses to be present in court to confirm the validity of your codicil.
Once you make your changes, you must redistribute your will to relevant parties, such as your executor, estate attorney, and any relevant family members.
Writing an Amendment by Hand
If you have a physical will you’ve already executed and want to make a small change, you can add to it in writing. However, it’s essential you only use this method for small, straightforward changes — for example, to change the name of an executor or add a new beneficiary.
To do it properly, you need to cross out the name you want to change and write in the new one. In the margin of the paper next to the update, add your signature and the date. Make the change in ink, and ensure your handwriting is clear and legible. Keep the wording succinct and straightforward.
Based on state law where you live, you may need to have the update witnessed or notarized.
It’s essential to use this method only for single minor changes. The more you complicate your current will with handwritten revisions, the harder it is for your loved ones to understand later.
If you need to revise the entire document, create a new last will instead.
This method is the least reliable. The courts will still do their best to uphold any valid amendments, but it’s difficult to prove a handwritten change wasn’t a forgery. To improve your chances of avoiding probate through a valid will, it’s best to use one of the following options instead.
Using a DIY Legal Service
You also have the option of using a DIY legal service or online will-maker to make a codicil as a separate document from your existing will. These forms detail:
- The type of change you want to make
- The clause number the change refers to
- Details about the update (like who you want to leave an additional gift to and what it is)
They also have a place for you and your witnesses to sign and date the document. Most DIY legal services also specify the codicil’s requirements to your state, ensuring it meets current standards and estate laws.
Depending on which service you choose, prices average $0 to $100.
You should only attach a single codicil to your will. If your situation calls for multiple DIY codicils, create a new will instead.
Hiring an Estate Planning Attorney
Your safest option for making updates to your estate planning documents is to go through an attorney. It’s the best way to prove you didn’t make the changes under undue influence and that they reflect your final wishes after you die.
Plus, an estate attorney can ensure your will and codicil follow state law, minimizing the chance your estate will have to go through probate.
It’s imperative to go through a law firm to make a codicil if:
- You anticipate the change will cause a dispute among your loved ones or beneficiaries
- You want to ensure the change is valid under state law
- You’re unsure whether you should make a new will
- You need legal advice about how to word or implement the change
As with the other methods, if your changes are significant or you’ve already made a codicil, an estate planning attorney is likely to suggest you create a new will altogether.
Will Codicil FAQs
Before you decide to move forward with a codicil, it’s crucial to understand whether it’s right for you and your situation. The answers to these frequently asked questions can help you learn everything you need to know.
Should I Add a Will Codicil or Create a New Will?
You can only use a codicil for minor changes like changing an executor’s name or adding a gift for a specific beneficiary. You need to create a new will if you plan to make any of the following changes:
- Disinheriting someone
- Removing or adding multiple beneficiaries
- Rearranging how your assets are distributed
- Adding multiple amendments
- Incorporating major life events like births, deaths, divorces, separations, marriages, or changes in spiritual beliefs or life philosophies
If you have a single minor change to make, a codicil may be the right fit for you. But, if you’re uncertain, it’s best to bite the bullet and create a new will.
Can I Have Multiple Will Codicils?
Having multiple codicils won’t necessarily result in the courts immediately dismissing your will, but it does put it at risk. The more codicils you have, the more complicated your will, especially if any of those codicils refer to the same clause.
And the more difficult it is to discern your final wishes, the more likely it is to end up in probate. To provide your loved ones with the most straightforward and stress-free execution of your estate, stick to a single codicil.
Can I Amend My Will by Making Handwritten Amendments?
You can, but it’s not the best way to ensure the court respects your amendment. It’s easy to make mistakes or be unclear with handwritten updates, and for the courts to enforce them, they must meet a variety of requirements.
It’s better to use a DIY legal service or go through an estate planning attorney to make a change to your will instead.
What Do I Do With a Codicil After I Write It?
Once you’ve created a codicil, there are a few steps you need to take to ensure the courts consider it after you die.
First, if you’ve given your will to anyone else, such as your executor, you must provide them with a copy of the codicil. You should ensure they immediately attach it to their existing copy of the will.
If you added a handwritten codicil into your paper will, you should revoke any other copies of your previous will and photocopy and redistribute your updated will.
Next, you should notify your executor and any other relevant parties of the specifics of the change. That can help prevent any confusion when you die and give them a chance to ask questions about the update.
Also ensure you retrieve and replace any copies in your home, a safety deposit box, or with an attorney. As with multiple codicils, multiple wills complicate the execution of your estate.
Do I Need to Get My Will Codicil Notarized?
Notarization rules depend on your state. You can also choose to have your codicil notarized to increase its validity.
What Makes a Codicil Invalid?
The courts can invalidate codicils for a few reasons. The most common are:
- Forgery: When someone who’s not the testator makes a codicil
- Undue Influence: When someone threatens or coerces the testator into making a codicil
- Fraud: When the testator is unaware of what they’re signing, updating, or agreeing to
The courts can also invalidate a codicil if:
- It doesn’t meet legal requirements (for example, it’s unsigned or there’s no witness)
- The update is illegal or unreasonable (for example, requiring a beneficiary to meet an unlawful requirement to inherit their gift)
- The person who made the codicil didn’t have “testamentary intent” (they didn’t know they were making a codicil or intend to change their will, such as someone coerced into signing the document or told they were signing something else)
Can a Codicil Be Made After Death?
No, only the person who created the original will (the testator) can make a codicil. Executors and beneficiaries cannot add a codicil to someone else’s will at any time.
Depending on what you want to change, a codicil can let you update your estate plans without having to draft a new will. When making a codicil, be sure to:
- Execute it properly by attaching it to or revoking any existing wills
- Update any other estate planning documents the change may impact, like your letter of intent, living will, or power of attorney
- Communicate the change to your executor or attorney
Taking these steps increases your chances of the court validating your codicil and ensures the execution of your estate is simple and straightforward for your loved ones.