The creation of a last will and testament will can provide great peace of mind for people and their families. But no matter how carefully you crafted the provisions you made in your will, they may not reflect your wishes in the future.
If your instructions are ambiguous or out-of-date, your heirs could spend a large portion of your estate battling each other in court. Fortunately, Florida law allows people to make changes to their wills with additional legal documents called codicils.
What Is a Codicil?
The word codicil translates into "a short writing,” and is a supplementary document that provides instructions or modifications to an already-existing will. Many people will add codicils to their will because it’s much easier than redrafting the entire document just to make one or two small changes.
A codicil can be used to:
- Name a new personal representative. Codicils provide easy ways to update the names of the people who will inherit your property and the person who will serve as your personal representative. For example, if the person you named in your will as your personal representative has since passed away, you may add a codicil to name a replacement.
- Alter the beneficiaries or property designations of a will. A codicil can be used to add additional beneficiaries that might not be covered in the will (such as after the birth of new grandchildren). It may also specify how certain assets are to be divided, or which beneficiaries will receive certain treasured items. For example, a mother may will all of her estate to her family in a will, but create a codicil leaving her coin collection to a dear friend.
- Enlarge or restrict provisions of a will. Codicils can have a significant impact on each beneficiary's share of an estate. Beneficiaries may be completely disinherited through a codicil, or may have to share their inheritances with other parties. For example, a codicil may be created to specifically provide for step-grandchildren, or provide a greater share of resources to a family member with special needs.
- Explain or republish a will. Codicils may be created simply to explain the designations in a will, why certain choices were made, or to clarify passages in the will that may be ambiguous or outdated or even lost. The execution of a codicil has the effect of republishing the will that has been modified by the codicil.
- Revoke the will. A codicil may completely revoke a previous will, usually as a preamble to the creation of a new will or codicil.
How to Make Sure a Codicil to a Will Is Valid in Florida
You should always have legal help when creating a codicil to make sure it won't be challenged in the future. Much like contesting a will, relatives can challenge the validity of a codicil if it may have been created through undue influence or lack of testamentary capacity. It’s possible to have a codicil declared invalid even if the rest of the will remains intact.
An estate litigation attorney can help you determine whether a codicil is enforceable based on:
- Proper execution. No matter how small a change is made to the will, the codicils won’t be legally enforceable unless they are executed with the same formalities as a will. For example, if a codicil hasn’t been signed in the presence of two witnesses, it’s not valid under Florida law.
- Proper revocation. A codicil can be revoked in several ways. It may be physically destroyed, or it may be superseded by a more recent version of a will or codicil. If an entire will is revoked, then all codicils to that will would be revoked as well.
- Multiple codicils. One will can be amended by one, two, or several codicils. However, multiple codicils can cause confusion, especially if they contain contradictory instructions.
Why make a Codicil to Your Will?
Practically speaking, when creating or making changes to an estate plan in Florida, we generally like to just create new wills rather than create a codicil. It is generally easier to create a new document with today's word processing than it is to actually create a codicil. But we sometimes do codicils when extremely small changes to wills are done.
Need Help With Your Estate Plan?
If you aren’t sure how to distribute your loved one’s assets, the attorneys at DeLoach, Hofstra & Cavonis can help. Simply fill out the quick contact form on this page to set up a consultation and get answers to your questions, or start reading our free guide, The Top 20 Rules for Protecting Your Florida Estate.