What Is a Codicil

An Easy, Lawyer-Free Way to Update a Will*

Potential donors will sometimes balk at making a planned gift because they’ve already completed their will and mistakenly believe any changes mean an expensive, tedious trip to visit their estate attorney.

The good news is, you can easily set them straight by explaining the benefits of a codicil.

A “codicil” is a fancy legal word for a document that updates someone’s will without the need for drafting a new will from scratch. It can even be done without hiring an attorney.

A codicil makes updating or changing a will fast and easy. If a donor has a few small changes to make to a will, such as adding a beneficiary (which can be their favorite nonprofit), a codicil is the perfect choice. The donor simply identifies the section they wish to change, then writes the revision down in a new document that is attached to the existing will.

It’s important to note that a codicil must be signed and witnessed in the same way that a will is. At present, just one state — Louisiana — also requires it to be notarized to become official. That’s still easier (and cheaper) than a trip to the lawyer’s office, though.

What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of a Codicil?

A big advantage is that a codicil can be drafted by anyone. One doesn’t need to hire a lawyer to make simple edits to a will. If a donor already has a will, all they need to do is add your organization as a beneficiary through a simple revision in a new document — the codicil — which will be attached to the will.

However, if the donor wants to make many changes or complicated edits, a codicil could make things more confusing, and it may be better to just draft a new will.

Another potential drawback is that a codicil still needs to be notarized with witnesses present. If someone simply attaches edits to a will without having them notarized, that document won’t hold any legal weight.

What Can be Changed With a Codicil?

A codicil can be used to:

  • Update beneficiaries, either by adding new ones (like your nonprofit), or removing existing ones
  • Change an executor
  • Update guardians for minor children
  • Update gifts to a beneficiary, such as adding or remove gifts or changing an amount

How Should a Codicil be Structured?

  • It must clearly state that it is a codicil to your will.
  • It must include identifying information, including your full name and address, the date it was written, and a statement that you’re of sound mind and not under pressure from someone to make the changes.
  • It must explain which parts of the will are being altered by the codicil, include people’s full legal names, describe in detail the assets it refers to, and specify dollar amounts or percentages.
  • Finally, the codicil must include a statement that it overrides what was detailed in the original will, as well as a statement explaining that anything else in the will not affected by the codicil remains valid.

A codicil can be an important, effective, and easy-to-use tool when working with donors who are considering a planned gift. Familiarize yourself with this handy tool to better serve your donors and your nonprofit.

*Although correct, we highly recommend consulting an attorney while finalizing your will.
Online Estate Planners: An Interview With Viken Mikaelian

Are you curious about the “sudden” proliferation of online will makers? They have been around for more than 20 years.

Find out what PlannedGiving.Com CEO Viken Mikaelian thinks in a straight-talk Q&A. 

Reach out! We look forward to hearing from you.


We value your privacy and keep your
information private. We do not spam.