Codicils to Wills – What They Are and When to Use Them

What You Need to Know About Codicils

Anna Dunaeva DLegal Anna Dunaeva May 9, 2023
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Making a will is an essential part of planning for the future and ensuring that your final wishes are carried out. However, as your circumstances change due to life events such as marriage, divorce, or death of a party involved, you may wish to change or update your Will. This is where codicils to Wills come in.

Codicils are amendments or additions made to a last Will and Testament in order to update it without changing the original document. However, while they offer a convenient solution, there are some things you should know before adding codicils to wills. Importantly, they must be executed properly in order for them to be legally valid and they might not be the right solution for everyone.

If you have questions about adding a codicil to a will, then get in touch with an estate planning lawyer to ensure you are making the right choice for your situation.

What is a Codicil and Why Do You Need One?

A codicil is a legal document used to amend an existing will. It is made up of a number of clauses and refers to the original last Will and Testament. A codicil is an easy way to add provisions or make small alterations to already-stated wishes. For example, someone may want to add a codicil if they wish to update the beneficiary structure of their Will or the named Executor or Personal Representative.

The impact of a codicil on your Will depends on the content of the codicil itself. In some cases, adding a codicil can help simplify matters, if only a minor change.

The Process for Creating a Codicil

The process for creating a codicil requires several steps. To craft this legal document in Alberta, one must first carefully review the original Will to identify the specific section requiring alteration. It should also include language that clearly states that it is an amendment to your Will and acknowledge the original document without changing any of its words.

You must ensure that all relevant information is included in the codicil, such as names and particulars of any additional parties named in it. As well as ensure that all changes made by the codicil do not contradict one another or any previously-stated wishes in your original Will, as this may create confusion later on.

When you are satisfied with the changes, you’ll need to sign and date the codicil. You must also observe all other formalities applicable to the execution of wills. For example, a non-holographic codicil must be signed in front of two witnesses and have those same individuals sign as well. After that, one of the witnesses must complete an affidavit of execution. After these steps have been taken, the codicil becomes part of your Will and is ready to be used for probate.

Can You Have Multiple Codicils?

Yes, you can have multiple codicils to a will. They can be used to make multiple small changes and additions or a single large change. For example, if you wanted to add several additional beneficiaries to your Will or update how assets are distributed, then creating multiple codicils may be a solution for your needs.

When adding multiple codicils, however, it is essential to remember that each one must be dated, signed, and satisfy other requirements applicable to their execution in order for them to be valid according to the law. It is also important to ensure that all codicils do not contradict each other or any previously-stated wishes in the original Will.

Are Handwritten Codicils to Wills Legal?

Handwritten codicils to wills are accepted and considered legal in Alberta if properly executed. The same as another codicils, handwritten codicils must be formally and clearly dated and signed to be legally binding.

However, handwritten codicils like holographic wills, are not recommended. This is because they are non-standard practices and often be put under more scrutiny than a standard codicil written under the direction of a lawyer. Keep this in mind when deciding whether to take this route in altering your Will.

How to Revoke or Amend a Codicil

In some cases, you may decide that the codicil is no longer necessary or need to make changes to it. To do this, you must submit a new document that explicitly states that any and all details included in the codicil are revoked. This document should also include language indicating that any previously-stated wishes remain unchanged by your revocation of the codicil.

If you wish to amend the codicil rather than revoke it, then refer back to the original document when revising its contents. Make sure that all information is legible and up-to-date, including the names and particulars of parties affected by the amended codicil. It is advisable to have an estate planning lawyer review any revised documents before submitting them.

When Should You Write a New Will Instead of a Codicil

If you wish to amend the codicil rather than revoke it, then refer back to the original document when revising its contents. Make sure that all information is legible and up-to-date, including the names and particulars of parties affected by the amended codicil. It is advisable to have an estate planning lawyer review any revised documents before submitting them.

Writing an entirely new document ensures that all relevant information is included and up-to-date and allows for more flexibility than just amending existing provisions with a codicil. In addition, it makes sure that any conflicting language between two documents is ironed out before they go into probate court.

How to Revoke a Previous Will

Revoking a will can be a process that requires sound legal advice. Depending on how the Will was created, it may require specific steps to properly revoke its provisions. Usually, a will can be revoked by physically destroying it, adding a codicil which states you wish to revoke the Will or by drafting a new will that explicitly revokes the previous one. This process should only be attempted with professional guidance as it could have severe consequences if done incorrectly.

Destroying your Will leaves no evidence to the court that you had one. However, this is not generally recommended as it can leave question marks during the probate process, and there may be copies that you miss. It also signifies how important it is to leave your Will in a place your executor or loved ones can find it, since if they can not, the court will proceed as if there is no one.

Situations When You May Want to Write a Codicil

Creating a will is not a one-time activity. Here are some common situations when you should consider updating it with a new will or codicil. These include but are not limited to the following:

  1. Marriage or divorce – If you get married or divorced, it is essential to update your Will to reflect the changes in marital status and any new beneficiaries who may benefit from your estate.
  2. Birth of a child – If you have children who weren’t named as beneficiaries in your original Will, you should consider amending it to include them.
  3. Death of a beneficiary or executor – If one of the recipients named in the Will passes away, or if an executor appointed by you has died, then their portion should be reallocated or the corresponding provisions should be revised accordingly by making changes to the document.
  4. Changes in law – In some cases, laws can change that affect how probate courts interpret wills and codicils. Make sure to review any relevant legal updates and revise provisions as necessary to comply with these changes.
  5. A significant change in assets or financial circumstances – If you significantly increase or decrease the size of your estate, make sure to update your Will so that it accurately reflects the current state of affairs. This helps ensure fair distribution among any named beneficiaries after death.

Who is Entitled to See Your Will and Codicils?

Only certain people are entitled to see a will and any subsequent codicils. People may not request to view the Will or codicils on curiosity alone.

In most instances, only executors of a will and the attorney for them can read these legal documents. Any beneficiaries named in the Will can also view it, as long as they do so through the attorney or an executor.

If any issue arises while probate is taking place, family members have a right to see both the Will and any codicils associated with it during this process.

Although viewing a will is not typically necessary unless there are questions over its contents, depending on provincial law, it may be possible for other family members or dependents of a deceased individual to request sight of these documents.

The Importance of Updating Your Will

Ultimately, updating your existing Will is an essential part of estate planning. It ensures that your wishes are upheld and respected in the event of death or incapacity, and helps ensure that any new beneficiaries or assets are included in the document.

When it comes to making changes, consulting with an estate planning attorney can help you understand how to execute them properly. Doing so can save a lot of headaches down the line and provide peace of mind that your wishes are being respected.

If you need someone to review your existing last Will and testament, then get in touch with the team at DLegal today. DLegal wills & estates lawyers are proud of helping Albertans prepare for the future. They will provide feedback and suggestions on the entire Will to ensure your significant ones are properly taken care of.


The DLegal team is here to support. We will do our best to assist or connect you with those who can help.

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