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What is a codicil?

A codicil is a legal document used to alter an existing (and current) Will. Codicils make minor, non-complex changes to a will. You can use them to alter what happens to your assets (property) and children after your death without the need to make a whole new will.

 How do I make a codicil?

Like a will, a codicil must be written down, signed, and witnessed to be legally valid. Each of these steps has certain requirements that must be met: 

Writing a codicil

To write a codicil, the testator/testatrix (ie the person who made the will being changed by the codicil) must be: 

  • over 18 years old (in England and Wales) or over 12 years old (in Scotland)

  • of sound mind (ie be fully aware of the implications of the document they’re creating). This requires them to be sure of:

    • which property they’re making provisions for

    • which individuals they’re leaving it to

    • the legal effect of the codicil in relation to their existing will

  • making the codicil voluntarily, without anybody placing undue influence (ie pressure) on them to make certain provisions

You must create your codicil on a separate piece of paper to the original will. You cannot alter the actual will (ie by writing directly on it) after it has been signed and witnessed as this may invalidate it altogether. 

Once you have met these requirements (and those for signing and witnessing) your codicil will be a valid legal document. However, that does not necessarily mean that all of the provisions included in your codicil will take effect when you die. Any uncertainty as to what the codicil says about how your assets should be dealt with could lead to disputes after your death. This could be, for example, uncertainty as to which assets or people you’re referring to. Different people may take advantage of any ambiguity to argue that assets are left in different ways. It can, therefore, be good practice to have a lawyer draft a codicil for you

Signing and witnessing

You should sign a codicil in the same way you would sign a will. Codicils should be signed in the presence of two witnesses (in England and Wales) or one witness (in Scotland). 

A witness can be almost anybody who does not benefit in any way from the provisions in the codicil, and whose spouse or civil partner does not benefit. If somebody falling into these categories acts as a witness the codicil itself may still be valid, but any provisions in it relating to that person would not be. Witnesses must also meet other eligibility criteria which differ between England and Wales and Scotland. For more information on witnesses, read Executing a will.

In Scotland, wills and codicils must be signed on every page. After the codicil has been signed, the witness(es) should sign the codicil in the testator’s/testatrix’s (the writer’s) presence.

You do not have to use the same witness(es) for a codicil that you used for the original will. 

Store your codicil

Always store a codicil securely. This can be at home, in a bank, with a solicitor, or elsewhere. It is a good idea to store codicils with the will to which they apply so that they can be found together after you die. However, you should never physically attach a codicil to the original will. This could count as altering the will, which (as it has already been signed and witnessed) would invalidate it. 

For more information, read Storing your will.

Other provisions

When creating a codicil, it is also good practice to:

  • be clear about which will the codicil relates to, if you have created (or may in the future create) more than one will

  • include the date the codicil was created

  • include contact information for the witness(es), in case they are needed to help settle any disputes

Remember that, if you later make a new will, the old will as well as any codicils relating to it will no longer be valid.

When should I make a codicil?

Codicils are only appropriate for making one or a few straightforward changes to a will. If you need to make lots of changes or a complex change you should create a new will and destroy the old one. You can make an unlimited number of codicils for a given will.

Common situations for which a codicil may be appropriate include: 

  • appointing new executors for the will (eg if one of your previously appointed executors has died)

  • appointing a new guardian for your children

  • increasing or decreasing the amount of a cash gift

  • adding a gift of an item you own to a particular person

  • updating the name of a beneficiary who has changed their name since you made the will

  • removing a beneficiary who has died or who you no longer wish to leave anything to 

  • updating your funeral wishes

Should I make a codicil or a will?

The benefits of codicils include that they are easier, quicker, and usually cheaper to make than a whole will. However, creating codicils (especially creating many codicils) can complicate the situation when you die. If codicils are created unclearly, or if they are not found, their amendments may not be applied to the original will. If this happens, the original will could be applied and your wishes for your assets, children, and other arrangements may not be followed. 

Creating a new will can be the best choice when you are updating your wishes due to a significant life event, such as getting married or divorced or having children. For more information, read Reasons to make a will

Ultimately, the choice to make a will or a codicil depends on the complexity of the situation. If you need help deciding which document suits your needs, you can Ask a lawyer to assist. 

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