Updating Your Will

You should read your will at least once a year to make sure it is current. It is easier to add a codicil than to write a new will, but multiple codicils can be a problem for your estate.

A codicil is a legal amendment to your will that allows you to make changes or additions. The codicil is a separate sheet of paper added to your will that must be signed by you in the presence of two witnesses and by each witness as well.

You may find it necessary to add a codicil to your will because of:

  • a change in tax laws,
  • the birth of a child or grandchild, or
  • the death of a beneficiary or a named executor.

If you write a codicil to your will, make sure you specify which clause(s) of your last will will be changed or amended by the codicil. If a new provision is being used to replace the one which has been revoked, the codicil should always state that you confirm the will in all other respects. The most frequent reason for making a codicil is when a beneficiary of your will, or the person named as executor or executrix in your will, dies during your lifetime.

The problem with codicils is, they can be confusing. Using a codicil to name a new beneficiary because one you named in the will has died is simple. Naming two new beneficiaries replacing one who has died, or changing the distribution of your estate via a codicil risks confusion and problems for your executor.

Writing a new will instead of adding a codicil to your existing will is the best choice if the changes to your will are more than a single, simple change as described above.

Writing a New Will

There may come a time when it is necessary to write a new will. When writing a new will, you must revoke the previous will. The law considers a will invalid if:

  • it has been tampered with or destroyed,
  • you were married after the will was drawn up, or
  • you write a new will to replace it (provided the executor is aware of the existence of the new will and knows where to locate it upon your death).

You should prepare a new will if your situation changes in one or more of the following categories:

  • Financial situation: If there is a change in your finances, for better or for worse, you should review your will. If you acquire new property or sell property, it is a good idea, at the very least, to add a codicil. If it is a major change, you should draw up a new will.
  • Tax laws: Laws frequently change, so keep informed of any changes that may affect your will.
  • Beneficiaries and executors: You may outlive your executor or beneficiaries, or you may no longer want to include them in your will.
  • Marriage: Marriage automatically revokes a will, so draw up a replacement as soon as possible after you marry or re-marry.
  • Children: Writing a new will provides protection and security for any new additions to the family.
  • Divorce/Separation: You must write a new will if you no longer want your former spouse to be a beneficiary. Keep in mind that a divorce does not automatically revoke a will.
  • Moving: If you move to a new province or country, you will want to explore the laws governing your new area. The changes may be minor enough that you may add a codicil instead of drawing up a new will. Consult your local legal community for advice.
About This Article Complete Canadian Wills Kit coverThis is an excerpt from the Complete Canadian Wills Kit, a booklet-plus-CD kit edited by a lawyer to help you prepare a simple will.

The kit includes blank forms and by-the-numbers forms designed to make the process as simple as possible.

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14 thoughts on “Updating Your Will

  1. I was wondering if two people from the same family can be a winess on a will??? Can a beneficiaries be a witness???

  2. If the deceased spouse's estate has not gone through the Probate process, the old will is presumably still valid. You may want to get a legal opinion on the status of the old will, if you and your deceased spouse wrote it jointly.  Richard DayPublisherSelf-Counsel Presshttp://www.self-counsel.com

  3. Hi,
    In Alberta, would it be okay to use a Codicil (properly drafted and witnessed) in order to exclude a beneficiary named in the original will. The beneficiary to be excluded is in agreement with the new arrangement and will not contest the revision to the will. Neither will any of the other existing beneficiaries. (The excluded beneficiary wants her share of the inheritiance to go directly to one of the other beneficiaries.)

  4. I am Canadian and live in California 6 months of the year. I have a valid a Will in British Columbia. I want to make an amendment (codicil) and want to know if I see a lawyer in California to make the amendment to my original Will whether or not it will be valid in British Columbia.

    Thank you,

  5. If assets are involved, it might be better to deal with a lawyer in BC who would have a more complete understanding of any tax implications. In general, it is better to revoke an existing will and write a new one when you want to make changes. In your particular case, dealing with a lawyer familiar with cross-border residency would be the best approach because your estate could be subject to both Canadian and US/Californian laws. You might want to read Taxation of Canadians in America, which we recently published, as it makes reference to some of these issues. Richard DayPublisherSelf-Counsel Press

  6. Crossing out parts of a will, making changes, and initialling is not a good idea because someone could challenge the will during probate — the changed will is not the same as the one you originally signed with your witnesses.It is a much better idea to write the will again, and sign the new version in front of two witnesses again.A legal dispute over the validity of a will can easily cause most of the money in the estate to be consumed by the fees, and a will that has been changed by crossing out and initialling is a prime target for dispute because it will look like it has been tampered with. Richard Day

    1. There is no time requirement for updating a will. Not one year, not five years, or any other number.As the article indicates, you should update your will when circumstances in your life change in ways that will impact your will. Obvious changes would include the death of someone named in the will (a beneficiary or an executor, for example)l, a divorce, the birth or adoption of a child, or a significant change in your assets (purchase or sale of a home, for example). Checking your will once a year is a good idea, in case something has changed. If you remain happy with it, there is no reason or requirement to change it. Richard Day

  7. My daughter and son-in-law have separated. My son-in-law is named in my will as a beneficiary, in the case that my daughter, and granddaughter pre-decease me. Do I have to write a whole new will? What is the average cost of a codicil, and can it be done by a Notary Public?

    1. Laurie, the best approach is to rewrite the will, either eliminating the pre-decease beneficiary clause, or naming a different beneficiary. The new version of the will should begin with a clause in which you say that this is your will and that you \”hereby revoke all previous wills and testaments.\”You really do not need a lawyer or notary to do this. There is no legal requirement that your will needs to be written for you by a lawyer or notary.A codicil can be used (again, you could write it yourself), but we don't recommend this approach because it is easier to contest in court during probate. Richard Day

  8. Can a codicil be written on a blank piece of paper (and attached to the original will) or do I require an official codicil form?
    Thank you

    1. It is _FAR_ better to re-write the will. Assuming the Codicil makes a minor change there is still a lot of risk. There is no “official” codicil form and attaching a codicil can raise questions about the entire will. Spending the extra time to rewrite the will (even if 95 percent is unchanged) sharply reduces the risk. Richard Day

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