Your last will and testament is an important document. It details who will get your assets and belongings after you die and might also discuss who you've chosen as the guardian for your minor children.
Most people spend a lot of time getting their will just right but fail to make sure their will is stored in a safe place where it can be easily found after their death. There are several safe places to keep your will, but there are also places where you should definitely not store it.
Why your will must be acccessible
Completing your will feels like a big accomplishment to mark off your to-do list, but before you can have complete peace of mind, you must store your will in a place where it is safe yet also easy to access.
The original copy of the will must be submitted to the probate court, where it will be approved. A digital version or a photocopy is not sufficient. Once the court approves it, your executor or person you name in the will to carry out your wishes will follow your instructions and distribute your assets to your beneficiaries.
If the original copy of your will isn't found, your wishes cannot be followed. Instead, the court will distribute your assets according to state law, which may not line up with your intentions.
Places not to keep your will
Your will should not be something your family or executor have to hunt for or work hard to get access to, so do not store it in any of the following places:
- A hiding place. If it's hidden, it won't be found when it's needed.
- A safe deposit box. Even if someone else has access to the box, the bank may seal it if they learn about your death.
- In a file cabinet or desk. Papers stored at home are easily lost, misfiled, or misplaced.
- In a box, file, or package of papers. Mixing your will in with other papers could result in it getting lost or thrown out.
- On your computer or with an online digital storage company. The probate court does not accept digital copies of a will, so this digital document is not usable.
- With your executor. While your executor is the one who will need access to the document, having them store it at their home will not protect and safeguard your document.
Best places to keep your will
There are several places that are safe to keep your will:
- Filed with the probate court. This is the best place to store your will. Many states have a system that allows you to file your will with the probate court for safekeeping. If your state allows this, this is the safest place to store your will. Filing it means it will already be with the court when you pass away. Filing the will does not mean that it is enacted or accepted into probate, however. You can always withdraw it and change or destroy it as you wish. Your executor must access the will after your death, and paperwork must be filed for it to be sent to the judge to accept.
- With your attorney. If you use an attorney to prepare your last will, they may offer to keep it in their safe. This is the second-best option since the will is in the hands of a professional and kept in an area designated for storage of important documents. Storing it with your attorney does not make it inaccessible. You can request it back at any time. If you wish to make changes to the will, you are not required to work with the same attorney or law firm. The will is yours to take at any time.
- A home safe. Keeping your will in a home safe is an acceptable option, but only if your executor and your alternate executor know where the safe is and have access to your home and to the safe itself. It does you no good to store the will in your safe if your executor and alternate cannot easily get into your home and into the safe.
No matter where you choose to keep your will, you should let your executor, alternate executor, and close family members know that the will has been created, where it is being stored, and how they can access it if something happens to you. Your will only matters if it is found when it's needed.