What is a Codicil To a Will?

a Codicil to will book on table with a judge's gavel

Codicil to will by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Pix4free

A “Codicil” is a legal term that means an amendment to a person’s Last Will and Testament (“Will”). Like a Will, a Codicil must be in writing and must identify the Will in question. The language typically used is similar to this:

“On this ______ [DAY] of ________________ [MONTH], ____ [YEAR], I _________________ [NAME] do hereby make and declare this to be my Codicil to my Last Will & Testament dated January 1, 2020.”

To be valid, a Codicil must be executed in the same manner as the Will. That is, the Codicil must be signed by the maker, must be signed in the presence of two witnesses and the two witnesses must sign the Codicil in the presence of the person making the Codicil. The witnesses should not be claimants or beneficiaries under the Last Will & Testament or the Codicil in question. The best legal practice is to have everybody initial at the bottom of all of the pages of the Codicil (though, this is not legally required). The purpose of having witnesses be present when the Codicil is signed is so that, if there is a challenge to the validity of the Codicil, the witnesses appear in court and testify that the Codicil was executed with the proper procedures.

As with a Will, a Codicil must use clear and precise language so that there is no doubt about what the maker of the Codicil intends. So, the beneficiary of a specific bequest should be clearly identified as should the specific bequest. A person can be clearly and precisely identified by providing the person’s full name, address and family relationship to the maker. Being precise also means adding the suffixes If the person is a “Sr.” or “Jr.”, etc.

A Codicil can be used to amend almost anything in a pre-existing Will including:

  • Identification of property and assets
  • Property and bequest designations
  • Who is a beneficiary
  • Who is to be the Personal Representative
  • Who is to be a Guardian of minor children
  • Funeral directions
  • And more

When should I use a Codicil versus executing a new Last Will & Testament

Here, at The Law Offices of Thomas Stahl, the most common question we receive about Codicils is when to use one and when to just draft and execute a new Last Will & Testament. Our suggestion is that a Codicil be used for simple changes – like the ones listed above. However, for more complex changes, we suggest the drafting and execution of a new Will. In addition, we suggest that a new Will is needed for certain major life events and changes. Major life changes would include a marriage, divorce, new family members and a relocation to a new home. Major changes would include a revised/revamped Estate Plan such as adding a Testamentary Trust.

Maryland and D.C. Trust and Estate Planning Attorneys

If you are thinking about drafting a Will or if you need legal counsel on adding a Codicil to an existing Will, contact the Maryland and DC trust and estate planning attorneys at The Law Offices of Thomas Stahl. We have the experience and expertise you need. Schedule a consultation today or call us at (410) 696-4326 or (202) 964-7280. We have offices in Columbia, MD and Washington, DC.

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