Can I change my will after I've signed it?
Creating your will can be an emotionally charged action, especially if it feels set in stone. But contrary to what you may think, a will is not unchangeable. In fact, making minor modifications to your will is relatively easy.
A codicil to a will is a document that changes a portion of the will without invalidating or modifying the will in its entirety. Once completed, a codicil is considered part of the will and carries the same legal weight.
What is a codicil to a will?
You can’t change the original will itself once it’s been signed and finalized — without creating an entirely new will. But a codicil allows you to make legally binding small changes because the codicil has the same legal impact as the will itself.
The codicil goes along with the will and outlines small changes and adjustments to the provisions listed in the original will. It should always be kept with the most up-to-date version of the will, including any wills that are held at the probate court.
Should you use a codicil or revise the entire will?
If you want to make one or more minor changes to your will, using a codicil is typically the best course of action.
Here are examples of instances where a codicil would be warranted:
- You marry and want to change who inherits assets
- You have a new child and wish to add them as a beneficiary
- You want to name an alternative executor
- You get a new lawyer
- You have purchased or sold specific property
- A death has caused a name change for a beneficiary
- Your children are now adults and therefore can inherit a different set of assets
When you use a codicil, you are not changing the entire will — which is why it’s important to document each provision change using an official form and documentation process.
If you feel you need to make more intensive or complex changes to your will, you may want to consider creating a completely new will. If you already have multiple codicils or you have been married and divorced several times, for instance, a complete revision may be in order.
The bottom line is that you want to make sure your will is 100% clear, accurate and comprehensive to avoid errors in its eventual interpretation.
If you do write a new will, you must officially revoke the old version.
How to add a codicil to a will
Although adding a codicil to a will is a fairly simple process, you’ll want to make sure that it’s done accurately. You can often find codicil forms at hospitals and legal aid centers, or you can find codicil templates online.
As you add the new provisions, be sure to include all applicable details listed on the form. It’s also important to clarify that the other provisions in the will are not being changed, and that the will is not being revoked.
Sign and date the codicil and make sure you have the state-required witnesses. Most states require 2 witnesses.
Keep the codicil with the original will or with the probate court, and keep your own copy too.
Here’s a brief overview of the basic sections:
- Title: This should be the same as the will, only with the specification of “codicil.”
- Opening paragraph: This is a formal declaration including the date and a full name, as well as the specific version of the will it should be attached to.
- Changes: Here, you note exactly what and where the changes are. For example, you might write, “Paragraph Three of my Last Will and Testament is hereby amended to read as follows:”
- Closing: This is a legalized statement confirming that the codicil is legal and valid.
There will also be spaces for the person making the codicil (the testator), the witnesses, and the notary public to sign and fill in the date.
Codicil best practices
Codicils are formal legal documents that must be created and managed with the same care as the original will.
The way you fill out a codicil will vary slightly between states, but in general, you will want to ensure that you have:
- A signature from the testator
- A signature from the witness
- (Possibly) multiple witness signatures
State rules vary with regard to witness and notary requirements.
Once signed and witnessed, the codicil is officially part of the will. Keep copies of it with the will and include the codicil if you distribute the will.
It’s normal to make changes to your will as you go through life, since life situations are constantly changing. Having an updated will is critical should the unexpected occur.