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What Is The Codicil And How Does It Work?

Admin and Legal

You might have heard the term ‘codicil’ bandied about 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!”

It’s one of many questions you may have when dealing with death, what’s a codicil, what is parametric insurance ect.

A codicil is an attachment to an existing Will, they are sometimes also called an Addendum. The codicil will refer to that Will and changes 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 – these are the people who administer the estate after your death. It is common to want to change an Executor and a codicil is a quick and simple way to do this. A codicil does not change the whole will - it will refer specifically to the part it alters. There are lots of other changes for which a codicil can be a quick and helpful solution.

Did you know you can handwrite a codicil?

You can simply handwrite a codicil at the top of the will but this is risky; it does need to be done properly. Don’t ever scribble on the will and cross things out – how would anyone know this was you? And there is no date to show when the changes were made. A codicil needs the following elements to be legally binding:-

  • It must state that it is a codicil, sounds obvious but this is really important
  • It should refer to the will it is changing in actual text – the fact it is written on that will is not enough
  • Refer to the exact clause to be changed – the clause should have a reference number and a page number
  • Explain in simple terms what the change is. Language needs to be completely unambiguous

So adding a codicil is simple really but there is one key element. To make it count, to make it legal, the codicil must be executed in exactly the same way as the original will.

How can you execute a codicil?

A codicil has to be executed because it could be quite easy for anyone to copy handwriting and just write something on a will. This could be for their own benefit or reward.

‘Execution’ just means the rules which surround the signing and witnessing of the codicil. Correct ‘execution’ is what makes a will or codicil legal – it takes 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 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
  • You change an Executor because someone can no longer act, 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. The UK Wills Act was passed when computers were just a distant dream, everything was done by hand. Now, a will can easily be edited or changed if it is stored as a document file on a computer. But whether you change your will by using the ‘delete’ and ‘insert’ buttons or by adding a codicil, new wills and codicils must still be correctly executed. This is to prove that the changes are genuine and valid. Many people still 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 of 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:-

  1. It has not been executed properly or at all
  2. 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 duress or foul play just as you can dispute a will.

If the codicil is contained in a separate document then it must be kept with the original will. Refer to the codicil on the will so people know to look for it. There are format codicil templates online if you do want to create and execute one yourself.

Witness status

The witnesses for the codicil do not have to be the ones who executed the original will. Any witnesses must be:-

  • Two in number
  • Over 18 years old
  • They cannot be connected to anyone mentioned in the will or the codicil – married, ‘closely’ related or connected in any other way

If you are making anything more than a simple change to a will then it is a better idea to execute a new will.

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