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The Codicil to a Will

This Agreement is entered by and between Jonas Adam, individually or collectively as the "Signee" and Jane Smith, as the "Signer", together referred to as the "Parties".
The Contract is dated [the date both parties sign].

1. Agreement terms

The Parties agree that the following agreement is dependent on the terms presented as follow:

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The Codicil to a Will

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Writing and amending a will can be a complicated process, especially without the aid of a lawyer or other legal counsel. If you have already created a binding will, it is possible to make changes through the creation of a codicil. To learn more about this amendment, how to make one, and what it can affect, check out this simple guide to the process. 

What is a Codicil?

A codicil is a testamentary document created by an individual often after the writing of a legal will. The document is often an addition or amendment to a previous will, but it can also sometimes replace the entire document if certain criteria are met.

In the United States, a codicil to a will is distinct entity from the basic testament but makes changes to the preexisting document. In other words, the codicil can be used to alter, explain, add to, subtract from, or confirm elements of the will. It needs to meet the same formal requirements of a legally binding will, meaning it must be on a separate sheet of paper, be signed, and be witnessed. 

Examples of When a Codicil is Used

Codicils are often drawn up when someone wants to make a minor change to their will but does not want to invest the time, money, and energy into rewriting and editing the base document. Some situations in which a person might choose to make a codicil include the following:

  • Person A wishes to leave their friend a small financial gift, such as $1000, that is not included in the original will
  • Person B wants to leave a small charitable donation to a favorite non-profit that does not affect the larger elements of inheritance
  • Person C would like to add a condition to their will to ensure their inheritors use funds properly
  • Person D needs to establish a new executor because the previous executor died
  • Person E welcomed a new child to the family and would like to leave them an inheritance upon passing
  • Person F married and wishes to include their spouse in the will

How to Create a Codicil

The creation of a codicil is one of the simplest legal processes available. The basics of what you need to do include writing out your decisions and amendments on a separate sheet of paper from the main will, have two witnesses sign it, and then have the codicil stored with the will. In practice, this could be more difficult than stated on paper.

The first step to creating the codicil is to make sure your amendment is practical and possible. If you want to replace all of your executors and redistribute the entire inheritance, than a codicil is not for you. 

White Stacked Worksheets on Table
Individuals who need to make numerous changes should not use a codicil (Source)

A simple way to determine if this is the right legal avenue is to speak with a lawyer, preferably one who drafted the original will. Once they state a codicil will be legally binding and practical, you can move forward with the creation of the document. Follow these steps to ensure the process is sound and your changes are unlikely to be misunderstood or misconstrued.

1. Read the Original Will

You want to make sure you are not making unnecessary changes or repeating information already included in the original will. Before creating a codicil to the will, read the entirety of the original document. Pay attention to crucial information such as the following:

  • Who the main executor of the will is
  • Who the listed beneficiaries are
  • Your funeral and burial arrangements
  • Your listed assets and liabilities

There are many reasons why someone would need to change this information, including the death of an executor, the presence of a new beneficiary, and changes to your assets. In many cases, people who make wills early in life might need to make amendments related to new tax laws and liabilities.

2. Be Clear in Your Written Language

Once you know what you would like to fix, you can work on the physical copy of the codicil. You want to be clear and precise so there are no misunderstandings about the nature of the document. One way to do this is to affix a simple title to the document such as: “Codicil to the Last Will and Testament of [your name]. You then want to make a fundamental opening paragraph. Lawyers recommend the following to be straightforward about your cause and aims:

“I [your name], [your address – including the city, county and state in which you live], being of sound mind, declare that this Codicil to the Last Will and Testament of [your name] is effective on this date and shall hereby amend my Last Will and Testament dated [insert date of will] as follows:”

You can then begin to make your amendments. Remember to mention the date your original will was made and to also include the date of the codicil creation. This clearly demonstrates you changed your mind about certain matters after the inception of the first document. 

Person Using Macbook
Your writing should always be simple and precise to avoid misunderstandings (Source)

The next step is to start laying out the actual amendments. When you do so, you want to reference which articles and titles you are changing. For example, if you would like to modify Article 1, you could state:

  • “Article 1 should be amended to state [insert change here].”
  • “Article 3 shall be deleted in its entirety.”
  • “Article 4 shall be hereby added to so that [here you can make changes which match new tax or inheritance laws and create an optimal outcome for your executors and inheritors.”

At the end of your document, add a statement which demonstrates your intention that the codicil overrides anything stated in the previous will. The recommended official language is a statement along the lines of: “If any statement in this Codicil to the Last Will and Testament of [your full name] contradicts my Last Will and Testament dated [insert date of will], this Codicil shall control.”

Finally, you should have language which reaffirms the rest of the will. The simplest way to do so is to mention you “reaffirm” and “republish” the original document in all other respects.

3. Proofread and Finalize the Codicil

You don’t want to make any mistakes in such a binding legal document. Ensure all of your desired changes are included and that the language is clear and professional. Avoid using shorthand, slang, or people’s nicknames. Always include individuals with their full name – i.e. John Smith and Jane Doe. 

The simplest way to proofread is to walk away for thirty minutes and then return to the codicil. Reread what you have written with fresh eyes and make sure the writing is professional. 

If you are struggling to create an official document, it is a good idea to speak to a lawyer. Your lawyer can also help eliminate inconsistencies and ambiguous language. You might need to use an estimator for attorney fees to figure out how much you should pay during this step. 

4. Execute the Codicil

Executing a codicil means you are signing it in the presence of two witnesses and making it officially binding. These should be the same two witnesses who saw the execution of your original will, but you can find others if needed. If you live in a state which requires three witnesses, follow those guidelines. If it’s possible, you might choose to make an electronic codicil to match and electronic will. 

Depending on your timeline, you can include a self-executing affidavit to speed up the process of the codicil’s recognition. You and your witnesses will need to sign it in front of a notary, who will also sign the document.

5. Storage

The final step is the simplest. Make sure your codicil is stored with the original will and kept in a safe location. This could be in a safe at home, at your lawyer’s office, or in a secured lockbox. Now would be a good time to make any changes to the storage location. 

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