I often get asked by clients or prospective clients about doing minor changes to their wills, usually in the form of a change in their executors. Any change to a will, while keeping the existing will valid, is called a codicil. Codicils were developed because of the difficulty in re-writing the entire will – it was time-consuming to do so, and costly to pay a scribe to write out everything that was already there, so people would simply do a supplementary document that only changed what needed to be changed. The practice of doing codicils has lingered through the electronic age, however.
If you are thinking of changing something in your will, it is important to keep a few things in mind. First, you still have to observe the formalities of a will when you do a codicil. In Ontario, that means that there must be two witnesses who are present at the same time as both you and each other, and neither witness can be a beneficiary or a spouse of a beneficiary. You should also do the codicil on a separate piece of paper to ensure that it is clear that the changes were properly witnessed at a later date than the original will.
Second, you must keep in mind that, when the will is probated, it will be probated with the codicil and both together become a public document. If you are doing the codicil to cut someone out of your will, or to add in someone you had previously cut out, that person will be able to see this. It is for this reason that I generally recommend codicils for only administrative changes, such as a change in executor or a child’s guardian.
Generally, however, as long as I have done the original will and still have an electronic copy, I will simply redo the will with the changes made and have the clients sign the new will. Clean, simple and tidy, and the only thing the beneficiaries will ever see is the most recent will with no changes made to it. In this digital age, there are few reasons not to do so.