Trusts and Estates

Amending a Will

Reviewed by Betsy Simmons Hannibal, Attorney
You can amend your existing will with a codicil, but if you might be better off making an entirely new will.

An amendment to a will is called a codicil. It can be used to add or delete provisions or substitute a new provision for one that's already in the will. A codicil must be signed in the same way as your original will: with witnesses, intent, and mental capacity.

New Will vs. Codicil

If the proposed change to a will is simple (such as changing the name of the executor of the will), a codicil may be appropriate. A codicil shouldn't change the meaning of the overall purpose of the will or create any conflicts about who should get what property.

If you have many changes to make--or even one complicated change--to reduce the possibility of confusion or misinterpretation, it’s usually best to revoke the existing will and make a new one.

Drafting a Codicil

Here are some things to consider when adding a codicil. It should:

  • Specify which portions of the will are being changed and the changes you wish to make.
  • State that the changes are effective on the date that the codicil was signed.
  • State whether any original provisions of the original will affected by the codicil.

Make sure your language is clear. Language that could be interpreted different ways opens up the possibility of your will being challenged.

Also, don’t make too many changes in one codicil, and don’t make too many codicils for one will. Multiple documents, cancellations, and reinstatements of parts of a will can get confusing, and it is usually better to draft a new will than to make many changes to one original will.

You must sign and date your codicil and have two witnesses sign it. They don’t need to read the codicil, but you should make it clear to them that you intend it to be your codicil.

Making a New Will Instead

If instead of making a codicil, you decide to make a new will to replace your existing will, your new will document should specifically state that it revokes your prior wills. This clarifies that you don’t intend your new will to be a codicil of your prior will and it will reduce the possibility of a challenge to your new will.

A Lawyer Can Help

You may be able to amend your will—or make a new one—without the help of a lawyer. However, if you have questions, or if you would simply feel more comfortable getting advice from a professional, see a good estate planning lawyer for help.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Can I use codicils to make changes to my will whenever I want to?
  • Can I rip up the codicil to my will and replace it with a new codicil?
  • Do I need to inform my family members that I am amending my will?
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