A last will and testament may as well not exist if it can’t be located when you die. As important as having a will may be, it is equally important to store it in a safe place and let someone you trust know where to find it. Storage of other documents related to end of life planning should also be considered.
Notify Your Executor
The executor is the person you designate in a will to be responsible for probating your estate. An essential part of the probate process is to file the original will with the probate court. The most important consideration in deciding where to store a will is that your executor must know where it is and be able to get it when you die. The executor also needs to know where you store personal information of all types.
Disclosing the Contents of Your Will in Advance
If you have your executor or a beneficiary keep your will, that person will be able to read the will. This information could get disclosed to one or more of your beneficiaries, and they might not be happy with the decisions you’ve made. However, if you have already discussed your plans with everyone involved, this is not a concern.
Give It to Your Executor
Often, the best place to store your will is with your executor. Since your executor is someone you trust, no one else needs to know the contents of the will or that it even exists.
If you don’t want your executor to know what your will says, you can place it in a sealed envelope, and ask that it only be opened upon your death. Your executor should store it in a safe place, such as his or her safe deposit box or personal safe at home.
Keep in mind that you may change or replace the will in the future, which may include changing the executor. If the executor is changed, you will want to collect the prior will and store the new document elsewhere.
If you update your will and keep the executor the same, you should ensure that he or she has the current documents.
The Risk of Keeping Your Will In Your Home
Keeping your will in your house creates the risk of others having access to it, and the possibility of it being destroyed by fire or another natural disaster. Your executor would need to know where you keep it and have access to your house.
The best option to guard against loss of the will is to keep it in a large, heavy fireproof/waterproof safe securely tied into the structure of the home. Your executor would need access to the safe (the key or combination). Some people create a “poor man’s safe” by placing the will in a waterproof bag in the freezer. This is not recommended as it guarantees neither safety nor confidentiality.
Safe Deposit Box Storage
A safe deposit box is not recommended as a storage place for a will. Even if your executor knows it is there and is authorized to have access to the box, once the bank is aware of your death it may secure the box and require a court order to open it.
Your lawyer may store the original. However, many people don’t maintain an ongoing relationship with an attorney, and it is common for lawyers to dissolve law firms and form new ones, so it may be difficult for your executor to locate the will when the need arises.
Also, if you move some distance away from where your attorney practices, it would be more difficult for your executor to obtain the will.
Filing With the Probate Court
Some states allow you to file your will with the probate court or the county clerk, usually for a nominal fee. However, this would create more of a hassle if you decide to change your will, and it will not be helpful if you move to another county or state.
There are companies offering online storage of documents and personal information. Some of these include password storage. Such online archives may be a good place to store information for an executor, however, a probate court may not accept a printed copy from such a digital will vault when an original is required.