It’s officially wedding season and love is in the air. Coupled with the fact that last week was my wedding anniversary, I was thinking about wedding vows. In particular, the part where a couple promises “to have and to hold from this day forward.”
Naturally, I always seem to tie anything and everything back to my work, so it got me thinking about how to best safeguard your last will and testament. In particular, should you have it or should the attorney hold it? I know, it’s a very logical thought process 😉
Clients often ask me where they should store their original signed will. In my time working with clients as well as serving as an executor personally, I’ve come into situations where the attorney stored the original will. In some cases, it was helpful and in some cases it wasn’t so let’s look at a few of the pros and cons.
- Safekeeping: By keeping the original signed will, the attorney ensures that it is kept in a safe and secure location, reducing the risk of it being lost, stolen, or damaged.
- Accessibility: When the attorney keeps the original will, it is easily accessible to the client or their family members in the event of the client’s death.
- Legal protection: By keeping the original will, the attorney can ensure that it is not altered or destroyed by anyone other than the client.
- Lack of control: When the attorney keeps the original will, the client and their family members may feel that they lack control, particularly if the attorney is unwilling to release the will or is difficult to reach.
- Lack of choice: Your heirs or executors might feel obligated to hire the attorney who stored the will to probate the estate after you’re gone.
- Liability concerns: What if the original will is lost or damaged? What happens if a lawyer retires and closes her practice, or dies without making provisions for future storage of the documents? Who is responsible?
When it comes to storing your original will, choose what works best for you. If you decide to keep your will at your attorney’s office, ask if they have a written policy covering the retention and disposal of client documents and files. If you choose not to, or if your attorney doesn’t offer that option, here are some recommendations to ensure your will is kept safe and easily accessible:
- Choose a secure location: Opt for a safe and fireproof place to store your will, such as a home safe or storage box. Any place but your safety deposit box at the bank!
- Sharing is caring! Inform your executor, family and/or loved ones the details of your will’s storage location.
- Provide copies to relevant parties: While the original will should be kept in a secure location, it’s important to make copies and distribute them to appropriate individuals.
- Keep it up to date: Regularly review and update your will to reflect any changes in your circumstances or wishes. Make sure to store the most recent version.
- Consider digital storage options: Utilize secure online platforms or encrypted storage devices, to back up your will electronically and provide easy access to your document when needed.
- Filed with Probate Court: Many states have a system that allows you to file your will with the probate court for safekeeping.
Remember, your will is best helpful when your executor knows it exists and where to find it! Otherwise, your loved ones may be forced to tear your house apart or go on a wild goose chase to find it. Remember, planning ahead is one of the best gifts you can give to those you love!