“Do it yourself” amendment to a will (Codicil)

Topics covered:

  • Step by step how to make your own “codicil” changes to your will

Is a codicil a better way to make changes to a will?

My column last week was about changing a will that had been prepared by a lawyer.

A reader had asked about crossing out and writing in changes directly on the will itself. And there was a lament about having to pay a lawyer $275.00 every time a minor change was made.

I explained how crossing out and writing in changes directly on a will can be validly done. But proposed that a cleaner way would be to modify an electronic version of the will, print it, re-date it and re-sign it with witnesses as your new will.

Barb e-mailed after reading my column: “Over the years I have done a codicil (basic form on line), when it is something fairly minor. Is this better than crossing out an original will or no different? Seems a bit cleaner to me.”

Sure, show me up, Barb!

It hadn’t occurred to me that there would be an easily accessible online form of codicil.

Barb pointed me to an American site you can find by searching “legaltemplates”, that says it offers over 140 legal forms, including a codicil. The pricing options include a free trial. Barb says she’s never had to pay anything.

Using online legal forms is dangerous! Particularly when the forms were created for customers in the United States because while many laws are similar, there can be significant differences.

Am I a hypocrite? In previous columns I’ve provided links to online forms of power of attorney and representation agreement provided by the government of British Columbia.

But those forms are provided by a reliable source and come with excellent information about completing them and how they work.

Even those forms have limitations, though, and if you go back to find those previous columns you will see that I always recommend consulting with a lawyer.

How about I just walk you through how to make a codicil. There is nothing complicated about its “form”.

First, though, what is a codicil? “Codicil” is a legal name for a document that modifies your will.

There is nothing magical about the title. The word “codicil” isn’t important. Call it “Changes to my will” if you wish.

To avoid any uncertainty, it’s helpful to specifically refer to the will you are changing to. How about this: “I am changing my will dated October 15, 2023”.

Then comes the important part: setting out the changes.

This can be tricky. No “form” can create this part for you because every will is different.

It’s critical to be crystal clear about what part of your will is being changed and exactly what that change is.

An example change of executor might be: “Instead of my spouse, Shirley Knowall, I appoint my sister, Elsie Smart, as my executor.”

An increased gift might be: “I increase the amount of my gift to the Canadian Cancer Society in paragraph 8(a) from $2,000.00 to $5,000.00”.

Those are easy changes. Others can be quite complicated. Unless you have experience with legal drafting, it can be difficult to describe exactly how a particular provision in a will is being changed.

Your drafting might be clear to you, but you know what you want to accomplish. It’s quite a different thing to look at the documentation with fresh eyes.

It can be far easier to make a change in the will itself than to describe the change in a separate document.

To be valid, a separate “Changes to my will” document must be signed and witnessed in the same way a will must be signed and witnessed.

And it should be dated.

Now for some cautions.

If your description of the change is not crystal clear, you will create what might be a very expensive problem for your executor to sort out and your wishes might not be followed.

Ensure you keep the document with your will! There is no “will fairy” that will alert your executor that you created that document. If they don’t find it, the changes will have no affect.

And please read my last column with the caution that the need to make one change to your will might be an indication that your entire estate plan should be reviewed. An optimum estate plan depends on your circumstances and tax laws, both of which change over time.

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