Legal Guide

What is a codicil

When looking into will creation and leaving your possessions to your loved family members or friends, you may run into the word ‘codicil’. It’s important to know that, whilst a codicil is very much related to wills, it is not directly synonymous with one.

Instead, the codicil definition (for wills) is an additional document to a will. It helps either explain or alter the will. One of the most frequent questions surrounding this is whether or not they are legitimate - and on par with the will itself.

What is a codicil?

A codicil is used mostly to alter a part of an existing will, whilst leaving the remainder of the will intact. Thus, you wouldn’t tend to create a codicil at the time of creating the will, but rather after.

This is a separate document that must be stored alongside the will. Your executors must be aware of such changes to an estate. The codicil can either be written by yourself or by a solicitor.

Some will argue that you should just write a new will instead of creating a codicil. This is because if there are drastic changes to a will via a codicil, the court may see it necessary for them to get involved in overseeing the handling of the estate. Though, if there’s only a single codicil (yes, you can have various), then this is less of a concern.

When to use a codicil?

It’s often recommended that if the changes you want to make affect more than 10% of the estate, you should make a new will instead of a codicil. Thus, codicils are very much for changing smaller details.

However, given that wills cost a lot, many will opt for a codicil because it’s cheaper. Plus, if you’re very trusting in your reputable will provider, then you will be optimistic that a codicil is suitable to keep the original will intact.

Some common causes behind creating a codicil:

  • Removing family members or partners as beneficiaries
  • Adding new beneficiaries 
  • Updating funeral wishes
  • Altering the amount of money to be left to a beneficiary
  • Changing executors

How much does a codicil cost?

Generally, codicils are vastly cheaper than wills, ranging between $20 and $150. The amount you pay will not only depend on the legal firm but will also depend on the complexity of the codicil. If there are nuances that are difficult to explain, you will generally speak more in-depth to a solicitor and thus pay more for this adaptation.

A professional service must be used for codicils. Whilst tech start-ups are often brilliant at creating cheap, fast wills, a codicil is slightly more delicate and should be done by a professional service only. However, such online will makers allow for will revisions for free/cheap anyway, meaning a codicil isn’t needed because of the automated nature of their will creation.

When should I write a new will instead of a codicil?

There are many instances in which you should simply create a new will instead of a codicil - not only when you’re looking to change more than 10% of your estate. For example, if you’re getting married, then this is a significant change in your circumstances and relations, meaning a codicil may not suffice.

Furthermore, divorces and separating from partners can be extremely tricky financially. Entitlements and disputes are so common that you simply need to create a new, thorough will to overcome such controversy.

Finally, changes such as the way you want your property to be distributed can be complex and large in terms of scale. Thus, creating a new will can be the best way to start from scratch and avoid confusing overlaps or discrepancies.

Risks of using codicils

Codicils can be seen as risky for a few reasons. First and foremost is the simple logistics of it being a separate document - usually a physical one. It’s simply more likely to be lost or misplaced than a will. This is because when one is storing a will, it is obvious that this is the most important document - thus missing it would lead to a search for it. Codicils, however, is an add-on that isn’t always presumed to exist, so you’re relying on effective storage alongside the will itself.

Secondly, if you’re making multiple or large changes to a will, codicils are at risk of being disputed or unintentionally confusing. There’s more scope for misinterpretation or outright dispute than a single will because they need to be reconciled perfectly with no gaps or room for filling in the blanks.

Do you need to notarize a codicil?

Whilst this will depend on your region or state, most places only require the codicil to be witnessed by two non-beneficiaries. Some US states are working towards getting rid of the witness requirement, where you will then be able to sign it in front of a notary public. 

Writing a codicil

A codicil, unlike a will, should be extremely short and concise. The more language that is used, the more chance of discrepancies and confusion between the codicil and the will. A codicil begins with declaring the identity of the testator. Under this, you have space to declare the amendments to the will. However, you should also be confirming the validity of the will - even the parts that are being unedited. Finally, two witnesses should be present.

Final Word

Codicils, whilst extremely helpful, are only necessary when creating a will at traditional will service. For more contemporary, online will-making services, the will itself can be more easily revised by creating a new one - often for free or very cheaply.

When having a traditional will, you will have a choice of whether to create a new will or create a codicil. For any complex or large changes in an estate or beneficiaries, a new will should be created. However, if it’s a simple matter of changing a funeral wish or adding a grandchild, or altering a small amount of the estate, a codicil will suffice, is absolutely credible and valid, and will be significantly cheaper than creating a new will.

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