What Is a Codicil and How Does It Work?
You might have heard the term ‘codicil’ used in crime dramas. 🎬 You know the type of thing, the family lawyer in the Whodunnit reads the will to the assembled group, and then rather ominously announces in hushed tones...”but, there is a codicil!” Shock! 😲
When dealing with death, there are a few questions people regularly ask, including what is parametric insurance, how much tax do we have to pay, and what is a codicil?
These are such exciting topics, I know. So let’s chat about what a codicil is 🎉
A codicil is an attachment to an existing will, sometimes also called an addendum. The codicil will refer to that specific will and a change in a clause or clauses within it. This means that a will can be altered slightly without having to re-write and re-execute the whole thing. For instance, you might decide to change one of your executors (one of the people who administer the estate after your death). A codicil is a quick and simple way to do that. A codicil does not change the whole will but refers specifically to the part it alters. There are lots of other changes for which a codicil can be a quick and helpful solution.
Creating a codicil
This is just an addition or change to the will. It must be signed and witnessed the same as a will but beyond that, there are a few other suggestions to make it legally binding. And remember, please 🙏 always seek legal advice when making changes to a legal document such as will.
It should state that it is a codicil Should refer to the specific will it is changing (even it it’s attached) Should refer to the exact clause to be changed with a page and reference number It should be explained in simple terms the exact change is
As mentioned, it’s so important to gain legal advice, as crossing things out and not having all the information necessary can invalidate the will.
Correctly executing a codicil
A codicil has to be executed because it could be quite easy for anyone to copy handwriting and write something in a will. This might be done by someone wanting something from that will 💎
‘Execution’ just means the rules which surround the signing and witnessing of the codicil. Correct execution is what makes a will or codicil legal. Taking it from the status of just a piece of paper, to a legally binding document.
To execute a codicil, the note or new document must also be signed and dated in the presence of two witnesses.
Typical reasons to add a codicil
You have another child and want to change the clause that provides for your children 👶 To change an executor because someone can no longer act as one, perhaps through illness or location One of your named beneficiaries in the will has died You want to add a new bequest to a nominated charity
Rather unbelievably, the last piece of legislation which governed the writing of wills was in 1837. Technology has changed quite a bit since then and it’s wild to think it’s been so long. To make sure your changes are genuine and valid, many people use a solicitor to both draw up and change a will, particularly if there is a history of family disputes. This gives them the peace of mind that the changes are valid and it makes them harder to challenge.
Is a codicil like a letter of wishes? 💌
A codicil and a letter of wishes are very similar but differ in one key respect. A letter of wishes is not legally binding, whereas a correctly executed codicil is. The content of a letter of wishes can be completely ignored. A letter of wishes tends to be used for things like funeral choices rather than actual changes to the will. Or perhaps, if there are lots of different items such as furniture or jewellery. A letter of wishes can suggest who should have what rather than listing each individual item.
When could a codicil be invalid?
There are two main situations when a codicil is invalid:
- It has not been executed properly or at all.
The original will is invalid and it is hard to make a case for a legal codicil in this situation.
A codicil could also be challenged if there is thought to be any coercion or foul play, just as you can dispute a will.
The witnesses for the codicil do not have to be the ones who executed the original will. However, the witnesses:
must be over 18 years old cannot be connected to anyone mentioned in the will or the codicil – married, ‘closely’ related or connected in any other way must be two of them ✌️
Last note, is that if you are making more than one change, or it is a big change, it’s probably best to just re-do your will. Again, get some legal advice before making these changes. If you need to make changes to your will or if you have questions, feel free to get in touch through our chat and we’ll make sure you get in contact with the right person.