Wills & Codicils

by Laura Wallace Henderson
Wills and codicils provide written instructions after your death.

Wills and codicils provide written instructions after your death.

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Planning for your future includes planning for the time of your death. While contemplating death can be unpleasant for many individuals, creating a will provides your beneficiaries with instructions regarding your final wishes. Seek the services of a licensed attorney who specializes in estate planning to ensure your will and codicils meet the legal requirements of your state.

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A legally binding will is a written document that permits you to maintain control over your assets after your death by allowing you to provide instructions for the courts, your executor and your beneficiaries. Your will can provide written directives regarding your choice of guardians for any minor children or dependents. Your will can also save your family time and money, as well as remove possible confusion and conflict regarding the division of your property. Codicils are additions or supplements to your written will that may modify your previous directives or make explicit provisions regarding any assets not provided for in your current will.


For your will to be a legally binding document, you must follow the provisions of your state judicial system, including executing your will. Laws commonly require individuals to sign completed wills and codicils before two or more witnesses, who must also sign the documents. Select an individual you trust to serve as the executor of your will. Your executor plays an important part in overseeing the distribution of your assets, as well as carrying out other directives and provisions in your will and codicils.


When adding a codicil to your will, make sure you provide clear information how your codicil modifies, negates or alters your existing will. Provide clear and concise information to avoid possible confusion or misunderstanding regarding your final wishes. If you decide to write an entire new will, rather than making minor changes with codicils, destroy the original and all copies of previous wills and codicils, after executing your new will.


While many wills never require altering or amending, certain circumstances may arise that make it necessary to provide additional details or change specific directives. Common reasons for adding codicils to wills include the death or divorce of a beneficiary, the birth of additional children or the selection of new charities to designate as recipients of your estate contributions. Codicils help to provide brief and limited changes rather than extensive rewrites that often require creating entirely new wills. Like wills, codicils may vary in wording and form, negating the need for a standardized form. Attaching your signed and witnessed codicil to the front of your will can help ensure that your executor receives your most recent instructions at the time of your death.