When To Use A Codicil To Amend A Will

codicil to a last will and testament and irrevocable trust being signed by a 50 year old woman.

If your Last Will and Testament has been sitting in a fire-proof box for years, you might realize that it’s out of date. An outdated Will might omit important people or reflect property you no longer own. Can a codicil help? Find out what it is, and when to use a codicil to amend a Will.

What is a Codicil?

A codicil is a legal document used to supplement or modify an existing Will. It can be prepared after the Will is complete and executed, but doesn’t fully replace the prior document. This add-on aspect of a codicil makes it useful in amending or updating an outdated Will. If you sign more than one Will, only the last document signed will be effective. Each Will replaces what came before entirely. But a codicil adds to your Will, instead of replacing it.

Think of a codicil like the post-script (P.S.) on a letter. It doesn’t replace the contents of the letter, but it can be used to clarify, correct, or update what the letter says.

Choosing Between Updated Wills and Codicils

Codicils are often used to make minor adjustments to your Will. They might:

  • Remove a personal representative or beneficiary who has passed away
  • Add a new grandchild or in-law to a class of beneficiaries
  • Update the address of your home after you move
  • Account for replacement property or vehicles purchased after the Will was executed
  • Correct errors or omissions from the original will

Because a codicil only involves small changes, they are simpler and less expensive than hiring an estate planning attorney to write you a whole new Will. However, sometimes it will be better to start fresh than use a codicil to amend a Will.

For example, when you (or one of your primary beneficiaries) get a divorce, the legal effect of that court order can substantially change your estate plan. Legally, if you die with your ex-spouse still listed in your Will, that spouse will be treated as if they died before you did. Could you use a codicil to simply replace your ex-spouse’s name with your new partner or spouse? Possibly. However, it is probably best for you to prepare and execute a new Will so that there is no question about your ex-spouse’s interest (or lack thereof) in your estate.

Preparing a new, updated Will is also the better choice if you are:

In addition, a codicil only updates your Will. It does not address other parts of your estate plan, like your powers of attorney or healthcare advocate designation. If you are trying to change the person responsible for your end-of-life care, you may need to sign additional paperwork to make sure doctors, banks, and other professionals are looking to the right person for answers.

A Third Option: Tangible Personal Property Lists

If you keep needing to update your estate plan because of changes in your physical personal property (for example, to account for additions to a collection), you may want your next Will to include a reference to a tangible personal property (TPP) list. This is a separate written and signed statement describing how you want those physical items distributed. As your property changes, you can make changes to this list without having to formally update your Will.

Are Will Codicils Enforceable in Florida Probate Court?

Unlike a TPP list, you can’t create a hand-written amendment to your Will and expect the Florida probate court to enforce it. Any updated Will or Will codicil must be formally executed to be enforceable under Florida law. To be valid, your codicil must be:

  • In writing
  • Signed by the testator (you)
  • Signed by two witnesses present at the time the testator signed the will

That is why it is best to hire an estate planning attorney to help you prepare and execute any codicil. Your attorney can make sure all the procedural details have been met so your codicil will be honored.

Can a Will Have Multiple Codicils?

There is nothing stopping you from updating your Will multiple times with multiple codicils. However, this can become confusing and could cause the Florida probate court to misinterpret your wishes. If you find yourself making multiple changes to your Will, or making a change multiple times (like replacing a replacement personal representative), it may be best to start fresh with a new, updated Will.

Get Help Amending a Will

At Harrison Estate Law, we know how important it is to keep your Will updated. We can help you use a codicil to amend your Will, or create an entirely new estate plan, depending on your needs. Our estate planning lawyers will be happy to meet with you to review your existing estate planning documents and recommend adjustments that balance your wishes and the cost and complexity of the changes. Please contact us online or via email or call 352-559-9828 to schedule a free consultation. If you don’t live close to Gainesville or are practicing social distancing, we are happy to set up a phone or Zoom call.