A codicil to a Will is a document, attached to an existing Will, that makes reference to that Will, and describes a change to a particular clause in the Will.
For example, a Codicil might say
In the attached Will, for clause IV “Executor” change the name of the Executor from Jane Green, to Robert Brown.
The only reason for writing a codicil is to save the time and effort in re-typing a completely new document. However, in this article we will explain why, in 2019 and beyond, this type of document has no place in a Will writing plan.
How do I write a Codicil?
You can handwrite or type a Codicil. It should state at the top it is a codicil, and make reference to the document it is altering. You should then describe the clause to be changed, and explain the changes.
Here’s the problem though. The document must then be signed in the presence of two witnesses to make it a legal codicil. The signing requirements for a codicil are exactly the same as the signing requirements for a Will.
When does it make sense to write a Codicil?
The UK Wills Act was written in 1837. This law describes the nature of a Last Will and Testament, and the legal requirements for creating the document. It states that the Will must be written on paper and signed in the presence of two witnesses. Section 18 of this law explains the use of a codicil.
Back in 1837, a Last Will and Testament would look something like this.
Imagine having your Will written, and then a few weeks later your main beneficiary dies. You would go back to your Will writing solicitor and ask them to re-write your Will with the new distribution plan.
But it’s not just a beneficiary dying, it could be your Executor becoming ill, you want to add a charitable bequest, you have a seventh child, the person that you name as guardian is no longer suitable. Quite soon your solicitor is going to get fed up with re-writing a new Will every time, so the law allowed them to shortcut the process with a simple codicil and attach this to the Will.
Just so that you can fully appreciate how old the UK Wills Act is, it was a full 50 years after the law was passed, that the first commercially successful typewriter became available. I think we can safely assume that it wasn’t long before they became a standard part of the Will writer’s toolbox.
So Wills started to look a bit more like this:
Again, having to re-type a Will for every change and update was onerous and expensive. The perfect solution to this problem was a Codicil.
Can I handwrite a change to my Will?
Rather than re-type a Will, or go through the signing process with witnesses to a codicil, wouldn’t it make sense to just cross out the outdated information and annotate the Will with new information?
Don’t ever do this.
The obvious shortcoming of this approach is that nobody knows whether the change was made by you, or by some unscrupulous relative after you had died. It happens.
Even if you have witnesses initial the changes, the dating of each change is an issue. And even if you date, sign and witness each change, your Will is going to be a mess, and it will be easier to challenge.
Why is a codicil no longer the solution?
We live in the age of computers and printers. There is absolutely no time-saving associated with using a codicil. The document still needs to be signed and witnessed, the only purpose that the codicil ever had was to save the effort of re-writing or re-typing the document.
If you write your Will with a solicitor, you will not receive much of a pricing discount for preparing a codicil over preparing a new Will. In all likelihood, the solicitor will ask to review the rest of the document to see if it still aligns with your family situation and wishes.
Before you know it, your simple codicil is going to result in a £400 charge and probably a new Will.
Updating your Last Will and Testament today.
If you write your Will using a service like the one at LegalWills.co.uk, the whole process takes about 20 minutes and costs £24.95. You are guided through ten sections, and asked questions about your key appointments and the distribution plan for your estate.
You then download and print your document, and sign it in the presence of two witnesses to make it into a legal Last Will and Testament.
Online services are more affordable and much more convenient, but where they really outshine the traditional approaches to Will writing is your ability to keep the document up-to-date over time.
Let us go back to our example of wanting to change the name of your Executor on your Will. Your options are
- Put a line through the appointment, and write in a new name. This runs a risk of the courts not accepting this new appointment because the witnessing requirements have not been fulfilled.
- Write a codicil that says for clause 1, instead of your friend Billy Black, you want to appoint joint Executors Brian Gray and David White.
But what if David White is unable or unwilling to serve? You have no legal language in your Will to cover contingencies. Your document has gone from being a well-drafted Will to a Will with serious holes in it. Of course, you also have to make sure that the codicil is signed in the presence of two witnesses, and that there is no conflict between this and any other codicils that have been written.
Updating your Will with LegalWills.co.uk
Let us go back to the scenario of a sickly Executor. You need to replace this person with a new Executor on your Will.
At LegalWills.co.uk this whole process will take you about 3 minutes and it involves creating a brand new Will.
The first thing you would do is open up your laptop, iPad or smartphone.
You would login to your account and go back to the MyWill service.
You would jump to section 6 “Executor” and change the name.
Save your page, and then download and print your new Will.
Sign this document in the presence of two witnesses and your document has been updated.
You could literally do this from anywhere in the World, at any time night or day.
What is the problem with codicils?
Now that you understand that a codicil does not save you any time you may be wondering why they are so bad.
Supposing that you write a codicil that changed your Executor appointment, and added a charitable bequest to your Will.
Then a year later your new Executor was taken ill. So you wrote another codicil cancelling the previous one to make a new Executor appointment.
Wait. What happened to the charitable bequest? Did your new codicil cancel the bequest as well, or did it just revoke the part of the previous codicil pertaining to the Executor appointment.
Codicils can be confusing (particularly if there is more than one) and they can also go missing. There is usually no reference in the main Will to an attached codicil, only a reference from the codicil to the Will. So you have to consider the impact on your Will if the codicil was misplaced.
In the end, a codicil is a bygone tool that belongs to a Will writing industry a hundred years ago.
Write your Will and update it as you go.
Traditional Will writing methods have been inconvenient and expensive. People generally want to write a Will that does not need updating, either by hand or through a codicil. As a result, people often wait until that time in their lives when things are no longer going to change.
You may be planning to write your Will, but thinking that you won’t actually write it until after your second child is born, or you buy a house, or your eldest child turns 18, or you have more significant assets. Whatever that future milestone is, you should not wait.
With online Will writing tools, the effort to change or update your Will is trivial. It can be done in minutes at any time night or day.
You should write your Will as soon as you are an adult, and then update it throughout your life as your circumstances change.
No codicil required.
Tim Hewson is one of the founders of LegalWills.co.uk.
He has over 20 years of experience helping people to write their Will and other estate planning documents. He has been interviewed by many of the major news media outlets and has contributed to articles in most leading publications. He has also contributed to a number of financial planning books.
Throughout his career, Tim has written extensively on the subject of Will writing and estate planning.
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