What Do You Do with a Codicil?

Suppose you’re up to date on your adulting and you checked off “Make my Will.” Go you! But what happens if you’re doing your annual revenue of your Will (because you’re an adult and you got this!) and you notice that you need to make some changes.

Maybe you want to change the person that you named as an executor or you want to change how you have your beneficiaries set up. So, you go to you nearest internet connection device and search for, “How do I change my will?” After scrolling through all the self-help guides on accountability and vision-boarding, you change your search to “How do I change my executor?” or “How do I change my Last Will and Testament?” Ahha, finally the search results are looking better …

You discover that there’s a legal document called a codicil and think that’s exactly what you want. But do you? Do you really want a codicil? Maybe it’s better to make a whole new Last Will and Testament.

New Will or Codicil?

A Codicil is the legal term for an amendment to a Last Will and Testament. Way back in the day of scriveners when Wills were hand-written, the codicil was used to amend a Will rather than re-writing the whole document for a change. Today we use computers and printers to “write” the Will. That means that most often a brand new will is a much better option than a codicil. In fact, many attorneys have moved away from creating codicils for a number of reasons.

Why create a new will instead of a codicil?

Our laws are only as permanent as our legislatures. That means that anytime a new legislature enters the State House and Congress, our estate planning laws could, and do, change. This means that using a codicil to update or change a will might be more complicated to fix the parts of the amended will that don’t align with the current laws. Since we no longer hire scriveners to hand write Wills in lovely Spencerian script, the printing of your new will can be as simple as editing the parts of the previous will that you want to change, updating the outdated legal references, reprinting it, and holding a new signing ceremony.

(Now, I say “simple,” because when compared to a scribe handwriting a 10+ page document in fancy script, it is “simple” to edit a document file. There is nothing simple about staying current on the law, knowing what parts of your Will are outdated, knowing how to write the words that update the outdated words and legal references, and knowing how to align your Last Will and Testament with your plans and wishes and use the law to make that happen. That’s why we go to law school. None of that is “simple.”)

Another reason to create a new will is if you’re seeing a new attorney. From an attorney’s perspective, a will created by another attorney might have some legal or execution issues. As much as you might want to amend one part of an older will, if that will is invalid because it wasn’t signed correctly, then your new codicil is also invalid. That means that you are not getting what you want, which is a Last Will and Testament that expresses your final wishes.

For all the reasons above: new technology including word processing software and printers, a law that is subject to the whims of the legislature, and ensuring that your final wishes are followed, a new Last Will and Testament is often a better option.