A codicil is an amendment to an existing legal contract, most often a will or a power of attorney. In most cases, it cannot be added directly, like a post-script. It must follow a conventional form, include your notarized signature, and be signed by witnesses who do not stand to benefit from it in any way. It is then attached to the original document and considered legally binding. It is your responsibility to ensure it is correctly completed, and delivered to whomever you designate as its executor. An example of a codicil to a will can be found at LegalDocs.com.
Can you write your own codicil?
While most adults are capable of writing such documents, it may not be in their best interests to do so. A properly crafted will protects your survivors after your death. A correctly prepared power of attorney allows a stated individual or company to perform specific functions in your absence. If they are not correctly written, however, a court may invalidate them – leaving you as if you never had the document at all.
At the very least, obtain all the legal advice you can before attempting this on your own. Each country, state, or region has its own rules of law for the writing of a codicil. The accepted form may vary, and rules on what can or cannot be amended may differ. Your region may require two or more witnesses, or differ in the verification of those witnesses. The form may, or may not, need to be typed. These are details you must know in order to ensure your document is legally binding.
Is a codicil better than a new will?
If the changes you are making are minor, then a codicil may in order. If new children are born or a beneficiary passes away, a codicil to your will is appropriate. Have a copy of the original document handy, and specifically cite the modified section on the codicil. Make sure you attach the codicil to the document, and supply your executor with a copy.
Often writing a new will is a better choice. Changes in tax codes, moving to a new location – especially out of country, more than three minor modifications, or any drastic changes will be better served with an entirely new document. Marriage automatically voids an existing will. Divorce does not, but you may wish it did. Make sure you state that all previous documents are void, and destroy them if possible. Also make sure you put a copy of the new one in the hands of whoever is responsible for carrying them out.
Where can I get legal advice?
If your document was prepared by an attorney, then consult him first. He will charge a fee for a codicil, but you will know it is correct. He may also be willing to advise you on preparing your own, charging only a nominal fee for properly filing it.
If you do not have an attorney, there are several places you can go to find help. Your state or province has a government entity to help answer questions. Look for state attorney offices, state bar associations, law schools, or legal aid societies. Often they have telephone services that can help answer general questions.
Free legal advice or counsel may be available from local human resource departments, especially if you belong to a union where you work. Also look for legal aid centers in your area. They are generally staffed by younger attorneys or paralegals that are required to provide a specified number of pro bono service hours.
The Internet abounds with information. Many websites now feature legal advice from established professionals like attorneys and judges, often for free or very low cost. Some cover general topics; others will allow you to ask specific questions or even submit your document for review. One popular site is Free Advice.com (http://law.freeadvice.com), where a forum addresses both general and specific legal questions.
Forms and general instructions are available at websites like LegalZoom or LegalDocs, or in most office supply centers. Remember that although generally such forms are acceptable, they may not address all the legal needs of your region or include recent tax code changes. They may, however, help you locate more specific instructions for your region or situation.