Posted in Triplett & Carothers on September 2, 2022
If you opt to keep your will at home, discreet hiding places probably come to mind. Some popular spots include the back of the toilet water tank (always taped in a waterproof bag!), the freezer, the pantry, on a bookshelf, under floorboards, in a closet or even buried (in a can or jar) in the backyard. But wait — do not be tempted by these ad hoc solutions. Attorneys and other experts recommend more practical choices, which ideally include backed-up copies in alternative locations.
Sensible storage solutions
The most important criterion is that you choose somewhere safe, accessible and straightforward for your heirs or family to find.
- Attorney’s office. Especially if your lawyer drafted the original, their office might seem an obvious choice. However, what if the attorney dies, retires or changes law firms over the years? Are you likely to retain the same attorney for the rest of your life? Lawyers are only human, and sometimes they do lose important documents. Some may even refuse to keep the original documents in order to avoid liability for break-ins, floods or theft. Besides, if the attorney closes the practice, somebody will have to track down former clients to return original documents. For all these reasons, many law firms will at least charge a fee for taking on the risks of will storage. If your lawyer agrees to hang on to the original, it may still be sensible for them to keep signed copies of it. These can sometimes be submitted to the probate court with testimony, just in case the original goes missing.
- Probate court. Some states will permit you to file your will during your lifetime with the probate court where you reside. Or the county clerk may be willing to look after the original copy. In those safe hands, you can take some comfort from knowing that a family member would be less able to defraud you. Be warned, though, that if you move out of that county, leaving your will behind, you might need to travel if you later wish to amend it. Moreover, if you have concerns about privacy, filing with the court in some states immediately creates a public record. (In most states, though, the documents only become public during the probate process.)
- Safety deposit box. This may be a useful storage place for jewelry or small valuable items and is extremely secure in a bank vault. But there are drawbacks. The bank will charge something for the service, and states have different laws for allowing access after the owner’s death. In some jurisdictions, an executor or family member may need to obtain a court order for permission to open the box. Make sure the executor or relative knows its location and has received your authority to open it.
- Online. The cloud is a good repository as a backup, but probate courts still normally require an original paper document with signatures. Be careful with online security, especially about revealing account numbers, passwords, birth dates and Social Security numbers.
Informing your executors
You already trust your executor and do not want to burden them unnecessarily. You can streamline the probate process by providing copies of any documents needed. It may be helpful to give your executor any powers of attorney, funeral instructions, living trust documents or digital access information along with your will. Remember to name a backup executor in case the first one dies or becomes incapacitated. You will need to contact executors any time you update your will or, of course, if you change executors. Above all, make sure the executor always knows where your will is, as they will need it when the time comes to obtain probate.
Safeguarding a will is a serious responsibility. Consult your legal and financial advisers about any steps you should take to ensure your will is kept in a secure and convenient location.