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What is a Codicil to a Will?

What is a Codicil to a Will?

Understanding When and Why a Codicil is Needed

During your life, there will be times when you need to update your Last Will and Testament (“Will”) due to changed circumstances such as divorce, marriage, a change in financial status, the purchase or sale of a property, or the birth of grandchildren. For relatively minor updates, you may be able to amend your Will with a written codicil instead of having to prepare an entirely new Will.

What is a Codicil?

A codicil is a separate document that makes minor changes to your Will. Rather than marking up your existing Will with cross-outs and inserts that could invalidate it, a codicil allows you to make targeted changes without having to rewrite whole sections of your Will, including:

  • Changing the executor
  • Changing the beneficiaries due to divorce, remarriage, adoptions, births, etc.
  • Changing the designated guardian(s) of your children should you pass before they come of age
  • Bequeathing specific real or personal property to new individuals not included in the original Will
  • Changes in your personal or real property ownership, such as the sale of a real property listed in the Will, or adding a new personal or real property into your Will
  • Changes in your business situation, such as an acquisition of new assets or the sale of your company

Although a codicil is an easy way to make minor changes to your Will, there are times when it is not the best option. For example, if you already have multiple codicils to your Will, starting fresh with a new Will has two advantages: (i) it will be easier to read and understand, and (ii) with multiple codicils and pages of codicils, there’s a risk that one or more codicils or codicil pages could be separated from the Will, rendering it incomplete, inaccurate, or even worse, invalid.

The best way to ensure your Will reflects the State’s current laws on estates and trusts, carries out your wishes, and protects your personal and real property, is to write a new Will with the guidance and help of an estate planning lawyer. That way, your heirs will know who is receiving what parts of your estate when you pass.

Writing a Codicil to Will

Typically, a codicil is one or two pages in length and is less costly than writing a new Will. When writing a codicil, specific steps must be followed, which include:

  • Clearly identifying the document as a codicil to an existing Will;
  • Explicitly describing the changes to the Will;
  • Having it signed by you and by witnesses who are not beneficiaries under the Will; and
  • Having all signatures notarized.

FSKS is on Your Side

As a codicil is legally binding, it is crucial to receive an experienced estate planning lawyer’s guidance to ensure the new terms are written clearly and in compliance with State law. No matter the size of your estate, FSKS can help you memorialize your wishes, address your concerns and develop strategies to meet your goals. If you require assistance or have any questions with any estate planning or administration matter, please contact (973)-796-2069 and ask for James E. Shepard (, who heads up our Estate Planning & Administration Practice.