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Codicils: Making A Small Revision To Your Existing Will

Codicils: Making a Small Revision to Your Existing Will

It’s not uncommon for a will-writer to want to make a modification to an outdated will that they’ve written years ago. Often times, will-writers only want to make small changes to their will – maybe changing a single sentence in the will or adding a beneficiary to the will. It can be tempting to simply cross-out the sentence and handwrite a new provision underneath; however, the courts may not consider this a valid modification. Instead, will-writers should either create a new will, or create a codicil.

You can use a codicil, usually a small document, to make amendments to a will. The document specifies any changes to the original will that the will-writer would like to make. Two people must sign and properly witness the codicil, just as they do when creating a valid will. After that, store the codicil with the original will, where it acts as an additional part of the will. Codicils are great for simple modifications, but shouldn’t be used when the changes are complex.

Writing a Codicil vs. Re-writing the Will

Anything that is removed or modified in the original will through a codicil will still be visible to any interested parties.

While a codicil is straightforward, it’s not always the best option available when you want to modify your existing will. If you need to make complex changes, it’s recommend to draft an entirely new will. Codicils describing complex changes can become complicated and difficult to understand. Drafting unclear testamentary documents can expose will writers to risk of litigation after their death.

Some common changes that would be easy to make with a codicil include:

  • Changing the executor of the will;
  • Changing who will be the legal guardians of your children;
  • Adding a new beneficiary to the will; or
  • Changing a beneficiary’s name if they have legally changed it.

For each of these simple changes, the intentions of the testator are clear and do not have complex consequences on the rest of the original will, so a codicil is sufficient.

When To Write a New Will

Here are some scenarios where writing an entirely new will is suitable:

  • When an existing beneficiary of the will is to be removed;
  • If there is already an existing codicil for the will and this change would be the second codicil attached; or
  • If there are any changes related to trust accounts that are being made.

For these scenarios, it’s much more difficult to briefly describe the change as the implications on the terms in the existing will are likely to be broad. For example, if a will-writer wishes to remove their nephew as a beneficiary through a codicil, they must specify who will receive the share of the estate originally intended for the nephew. If the nephew was going to receive multiple gifts in the will, redistributing each piece to other beneficiaries could make the codicil too complicated. Further, if privacy is a concern, a new will is more private than a codicil. After writing a new will, will writers can choose to destroy their old will.

It’s always best to be as clear as possible when expressing your intensions in estate planning. If there is a chance that a dispute over the meaning of the codicil could arise after your death, it’s usually a better idea to simply write a brand new will.

If you are unsure about how you should go about making a revision to your will, contact an experienced estate lawyer today. Good advice can help ensure that there are no complications in your will/codicil after you have passed away.

Have a question about this topic or a different legal topic? Contact us for a free consultation. Reach us via phone at 250-888-0002, or via email at

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