What is a codicil?

28 April 2021

When you prepare to leave your assets to your loved ones, you may encounter the word ‘codicil’, meaning an additional legal document that explains or alters your will. But when, why and how should you use a codicil?

Here’s everything you need to know about adding a codicil to a will.

Pros and cons of adding a codicil to a will

Life can be unpredictable, and as your circumstances change, you may wish to make alterations to your will with either an addition or supplement that explains, modifies, or revokes a will or part of one.

The advantage of doing this by writing a codicil is that it avoids the need to write a new will and is often the cheaper option. On the downside, there’s an inherent risk that your codicil will be missed by your executors unless it’s stored with your will in a secure place, such as your own safe at home, the office of your solicitors or will writing service, or lodged with the Probate Service. For this reason, codicils are preferred for minor additions or amendments, rather than major changes, where a new will is more appropriate. It is considered bad legal practice to alter details pertaining to your main assets, such as property, as this can create ambiguities in your will that a probate court may need to adjudicate on. 

Do I need to change my will?

Changing your will might seem like something you’d rather avoid, but there are good reasons for adding a codicil:

  • If a named executor has died, and you wish to appoint a new executor.
  • If you get married, as your marriage will revoke your will if you live in England or Wales, although not Scotland.
  • You want to make small alterations to your wishes and assets; for example, because your financial circumstances have changed.
  • You wish to change your will following the birth of children or grandchildren to reflect their inheritance .
  • If you wish to update your wishes about your funeral or cremation.
  • You get divorced. Getting divorced doesn’t revoke a will, although in England and Wales your ex-husband/wife or civil partner wouldn’t benefit from it.

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How to change your will

If you require assistance when it comes to adding a codicil to a will, you can appoint a solicitor to alter your legal document. Alternatively, online will-writing services can save you money, and often include a self-service option as well as a legal review. Using an online service means you won’t have to visit a solicitor, whilst still having telephone support available should you need. Some online services allow you to make unlimited changes to your will for a fixed price. Remember, your executors will need to be made aware that the codicil exists. Your codicil must be signed and witnessed by two people in the same way as your will, though you don’t need to use the same witnesses for both documents.

Writing a new will

If you wish to make significant or multiple changes to your will, a better alternative to a codicil might be to write a new will from scratch. In doing so, you should destroy your old will and any copies to avoid confusing your executors. Regardless of whether you choose to write the will online or through a high street solicitor, you should ensure the new will clearly revokes any previous versions and codicils. It should also preserve the validity of any other legal documents in your name, such as assets protected by another will.

In short, adding a codicil to a will is a simple and effective way to make small alterations to your will while you’re still around.

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