In Latin, the word “codicil” means “little will. A codicil is a formal document that amends the provisions of a will. The amendments may change, modify, or supplement the provisions of a will.
A codicil must be executed with the same formalities of a will. Unlike a will, however, a codicil need not dispose of some property. A codicil need only amend a provision of a will.
In some states, a codicil can be valid only if it amends a will that has not been revoked or otherwise deemed invalid. On the other hand, some states define wills to include codicils. Thus, if the will is revoked or otherwise deemed invalid, the codicil will remain valid, unless the codicil itself is revoked. The codicil is, in effect, a new will as to its provisions, and a partial revocation of the conflicting provisions in any existing will.
Why Codicils Are Used
Before the widespread use of computers, wills were handwritten or typed. Codicils were often used to make minor amendments to a will. Doing so avoided the time and effort to make a whole new will. Doing so also avoided the possibility of making a mistake in copying the desired portions in the existing will.
Today, with the widespread use of computers, codicils are generally not used to make minor amendments to a will. Today, it is relatively easy to make and print a new will by editing an electronic version of a prior will.
Another reason why codicils are used is still relevant. The testator’s capacity to make a new will may be in doubt. If that is the case, changes should be put in a codicil instead of a new will. Otherwise, the new will may be deemed invalid, the old will may be deemed invalid, and intestate succession will apply. By putting the changes in a codicil, if the codicil is deemed invalid, the will remains, and intestate succession will be avoided.
Another reason why codicils are used is to announce the existence of the testator’s will. The existence of a will and its provisions may be kept secret until the testator dies. A codicil inherently announces that the testator has a will that should be looked for after the testator’s death. The codicil, without revealing the contents of the will, can describe where the will is while keeping the contents of the will secret. The codicil can be given to the prospective executor before the testator’s death.
Another reason why codicils are used is to announce the testator’s desires for the disposition of his or her body after death. Copies of such a codicil can be given to all interested persons prior to the testator’s death.