How to Write a Codicil to a Will

How to Write a Codicil to a Will

by Edward A. Haman, Esq., June 2015

A last will and testament prepared at a relatively young age will rarely meet your needs years later. Wills can be “updated” in one of two ways: (1) you can execute an amendment to your will, called a codicil, or (2) you can replace your will with a completely new will.

When to Revise a Will

The most common circumstances for updating a will are:

  • You wish to change who you want to receive your property
  • You wish to change how your property is to be divided
  • You wish to change your executor, or alternative executor
  • You acquire new property or no longer have certain items of property
  • There are changes in beneficiaries due to deaths, marriages, or births
  • You wish to change the designation of a guardian for minor children
  • Provisions for your children need to change because they are no longer minors
  • Changes are required to address tax consequences to beneficiaries

What is a Codicil?

The definition of codicil is: “an addition or supplement to a will, either to add to, remove, or alter the provisions of the will.” A codicil to a will does not revoke the will, but merely changes one or more parts of the will. Both the will and the codicil are admitted to probate.

How to Change a Will with a Codicil

Changing a will with a codicil is very similar to writing a will. In any codicil form there will be a title, an opening paragraph, the changes you are making, the proper signatures and statements of the person making the codicil, the witnesses, and the notary public.

Title and Opening Paragraph

The title should be the same as that of your will, with the words “Codicil to the” before it. For example, if John Smith’s will is titled “Last Will and Testament of John J. Smith,” his codicil should be titled “Codicil to the Last Will and Testament of John J. Smith.”

An appropriate opening paragraph for Mr. Smith’s codicil would be:

I, John J. Smith, of Marin County, California, being of sound mind, declare that this Codicil to the Last Will and Testament of John J. Smith is effective on this date, and hereby amends my Last Will and Testament dated March 4, 2003, as follows:

It is important to refer to the will you are changing, including its date of execution.

Changes

The codicil will indicate which paragraph of the will is being changed, and set forth the revised paragraph. For example, if paragraph three of your will says:

Paragraph Three. I give, devise, and bequeath all my estate, real, personal, and mixed, of whatever kind, to Mary Greene.

A codicil might say:

Paragraph Three of my Last Will and Testament is hereby amended to read as follows:

Paragraph Three. I give, devise, and bequeath all my estate, real, personal, and mixed, of whatever kind, to Mary Greene and Joseph Black in equal shares.

If you are changing more than one paragraph of your will, you will indicate the number of each paragraph being changed, and set forth the new language of each paragraph.

To completely delete paragraph Four, you could write: “Paragraph Four of my Last Will and Testament is hereby deleted in its entirety.”

To add a new paragraph, you could write: “My Last Will and Testament is hereby amended to add the following as Paragraph Seven,” then state the new paragraph.

Closing Paragraphs

After you have set forth all of the changes to your will, you should insert the following paragraphs:

In the event that any statement in this Codicil contradicts the terms of my Last Will and Testament dated {insert the date of the will}, the terms of this Codicil shall control.

In all other respects I reaffirm and republish my Last Will and Testament dated {insert the date of the will}.

There will also be spaces for the person making the codicil (the testator), the witnesses, and the notary public to sign and fill in the date.

Legal Formalities for a Codicil

Codicils must be executed in the same manner as a will. These requirements vary by state. All states require that the codicil be signed by the testator, and that there be witnesses, who generally must watch the testator and each other sign. Most states require two witnesses, but a few require three. There are also rules about who may, or may not, serve as a witness (typically someone under the age of majority, or who might inherit from the testator either under the will or under the probate law).

Not all states require that a will or a codicil be notarized, but notarization is a good idea. Having the signatures of the testator and the witnesses notarized may allow the codicil to be admitted to probate without having to track down the witnesses. There may also be certain statements that are required to be in the codicil above the signatures of the testator, the witnesses, and the notary.

Although not a legal formality, be sure to carefully proofread your codicil before signing it. If possible, ask someone else to proofread it too.      

Should You Write a New Will?

Even if you know how to write a codicil to a will, you may be better off to write a completely new will, and thereby revoke the old will. Most attorneys recommend a new will over a codicil in order to avoid potential confusion between two documents. With modern word processing, preparing a new will won’t take much more time than preparing a codicil. Two situations that clearly mandate a new will are if you are making several changes to your will, or you already have one or more codicils.  

Where to Keep Your Codicil

You should store your codicil with your will. If you filed your will with the probate court, you should file your codicil also. You should also keep a copy of the codicil, and give a copy to anyone else who has a copy of your will.

If you decide to  create a new last will, LegalZoom can help. Answer a few questions to get started. LegalZoom will review your answers for consistency and completeness, prepare your last will and testament package and send it to you.