Updating a Will: Why a Brand New Will Is Better Than a Codicil

  • A will cannot be changed simply by marking it up with a pen.
  • When updating a will, there are two options – drafting a codicil or drafting a brand new will.
  • A codicil is essentially an amendment to an existing will.
  • Drafting a new will is the better choice when changes are required to your will.

While you’d like to make a will once and then forget about it, things happen that require updating a will. You may get married or divorced, have children or grandchildren, lose a loved one prematurely, have a falling out with a family member or friend, shift your charitable inclinations, win the lottery or move to a new state. Once you realize it’s time to update your will, what should you do?

Don’t mark up your current will

You may think the easiest way to revise your will is to mark it with a pen and initial next to the changes. Unfortunately, any extra notations made on your will, such as crossing something out, inserting a name or writing in the margin, will be ignored. In fact, under certain circumstances, an altered will may become completely invalid. Instead, you have two options for making revisions to your will. You can write a codicil or a brand new will.

Know about codicils

Prior to the computer era, wills were written by long-hand. Eventually, they were typed on a good, old fashioned typewriter. Back then, if someone wanted to make a change to their will, rewriting or re-typing the entire document would be too cumbersome. Instead, a “codicil” was used to revise, delete or add language to the existing will.

Since a codicil is used to amend a will, it must be signed with the same legal formalities as a will. And while in the past making a codicil was easier than drafting an entire new will, today, with modern technology, rewriting an entire will isn’t a big deal.

Write a new will

In almost every situation, writing a brand new will instead of a making a codicil is better for the following reasons:

  • You’ll have one cohesive will instead of two or more disjointed documents. For example, there could be language in a codicil that conflicts with language in the will and it’s not clear which document should prevail. A new will completely revokes and replaces the old will, thereby limiting errors and diminishing any misinterpretation of your intentions.
  • You’re more likely to store a single important document in safekeeping as opposed to corralling multiple ones that were signed on different dates and likely years apart. This will ensure that only one set of instructions is located that will be used to carry out your final wishes.
  • Since a codicil amends an existing will, the two documents must be read side-by-side to determine your true wishes. On the other hand, a brand new will should include language that states your intention to revoke all prior wills, so your heirs won’t be privy to what your original will said and which provisions you decided to change. This will potentially head off any challenges to your will and promote family harmony.
  • A codicil needs to be signed with the same legal formalities as a will, in front of two witnesses. If you’re going to have to round up two witnesses, you may as well sign a brand new will.