Understanding the Importance of a Codicil

If you have already created a Last Will and Testament, you may want to go back and make some edits to the document. It isn’t necessary to create a whole new document for some minor changes. All you need to fix it up is a codicil.

A codicil is a legally binding document allowing changes to be made for a will without completely redoing the original document. You could consider a codicil as an amendment to a contract.

Will Basics

To better understand the importance of a codicil, you need to know a few basics about a Last Will and Testament.

A will is a legally binding document that offers final instructions from the testator (creator) of the will and disperses the person’s estate to their chosen beneficiaries. A will doesn’t take effect until after the testator has died. 

A will must be signed by the testator and two other witnesses to be legally valid. The testator must show they are mentally capable of making decisions laid out in the document. 

The Benefits of a Codicil

With the many decisions made in a Last Will and Testament, you are likely to have some minor changes you might want to make. One example would be you appointing your spouse to be your sole beneficiary and indicating your sister as your back up beneficiary. However, you later decide to change some terms and distribute your estate equally between your sister and brother (still as back-up to your spouse). Although you may have initially assumed these changes require you to recreate your will, all you need to do is include a codicil to indicate these changes. 

Since the codicil acts an amendment to your will, this document should be stored together with the will so the executor can file both documents with the probate court at the same time.

A Codicil vs A New Will

Even though a codicil is a helpful addition to a will when making small changes, there may be times when you need to scrap your original document and create a new legally binding will. 

Adding more documents to any contract can always leave the potential of confusion regarding the original terms of the contract. This is no different with a codicil. It allows you to insert changes you want to make without redoing the entire document. However, it's another set of paperwork that can potentially be lost or misunderstood in regard to the testator's final wishes in their will. 

Suppose your original will leaves all of your estate to your brother, with additional instructions to pass it to his children when he dies. If you then change your mind and create a codicil to now leave your estate to your brother AND your sister, what about the additional instructions? Do you still intend for your estate to go to your brother's children after your brother dies, even if your sister is still alive? Many questions and situations must be considered when making a change to your will.

It may sound like a complicated scenario already, but it can cause further confusion without you around to clear up the situation.

A codicil makes sense when you want to make minor changes to your original will. If the additions or amendments are extensive, you may consider creating a new will to ensure all your wishes and instructions are clearly understood and followed. 

A good rule of thumb, whether you are using a codicil or making a new will, is to provide as much information and instruction as possible. You may think you are providing too much instruction, but it's always better to have more than not enough.

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