Codicils: what is a codicil, making minor changes to a will

Updated 12 June 2020.

What is a codicil to a will?

A codicil is a short, additional document used to make minor changes, amendments or alterations to an existing will. To be legally valid the codicil document must be signed and executed in front of witnesses in the same way as for a will. Once completed the codicil is kept with that will.  More than one codicil may be made.  Unless the change is minor and straightforward it is preferable to make a new will. 

‘Codicil’ comes from Latin meaning a letter or note.  It was also referred to as a ‘little book’ in 17th century England. But the idea of making a testamentary addition began in the ancient Roman civil law.  Later in early English law it started being used in situations where a testator didn’t have time to make a proper solemnised will and testament.   

Together with the will document  a codicil also being a testamentary document only operates when you die. 

Codicil to an existing will or make a new will?

A codicil can be a cost-effective way to make a minor change to a will.  such as substituting an executor.  However if the will was made a long time ago, it may be best to make a new will altogether so there is no inconsistencies.  Lawyers tend to prefer that a new will is made so as to avoid potential difficulties down the track with interpretation and the extra costs and delay that arise in resolving them.  Seek professional advice.

This article looks at:

  • What is a codicil?
  • Making a legally valid codicil
  • Codicils must refer to the date on the correct will
  • Revoking part of a will by a codicil
  • Reviving an earlier will by a codicil
  • Meaning of ‘will’ includes a codicil
  • How must codicils be signed?
  • Storing a codicil
  • Potential problems
  • An undated, unsigned ‘homemade’ codicil 

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