How to Safely Store Your Will

Learn about the places where you can keep your will—and the pros and cons of each one.

Updated by , Attorney

You've made your will, now what should you do with it? When deciding where to store your will, you'll need to balance security with accessibility.

On the one hand, you'll want to keep your will in a place where it will be safe from disasters like fire or flood and secure from thieves or snoops. On the other hand, if the storage space is so secure that it's impossible to find or access, it will defeat the purpose of having a will in the first place. No one will know what your wishes are, and instead intestate succession laws will say what happens to your property and money.

As with most estate planning considerations, there's no one-size-fits-all answer about the best place to store your will. You'll have to consider many factors and come up with the best solution for you.

Where is a will stored typically, and what are the pros and cons of each option? Let's take a look.

Storing a Will With Your Lawyer

It used to be common for attorneys to store wills for their clients. Now, attorneys tend to avoid storing wills because they fear liability if a client's will is lost or damaged.

If an attorney drafted your will and is willing to store it, you might want to consider your attorney's law office as one option for storing your will it.

Pros:

  • Some firms, especially larger ones, might have strong security measures, such as safe deposit boxes or vaults for storing clients' documents.
  • Some states have specific rules requiring lawyers to safeguard important client documents like wills in a secure manner.
  • Your attorney understands the probate process and can ensure that the will ends up with the executor.
  • Your attorney will not allow others to view the will without your permission.

Cons:

  • You or your survivors might not know how to locate your will if your attorney dies, retires, or moves to a new law firm.
  • If your attorney's office does not have strong security, your will could be stolen or destroyed by fire or flooding.
  • If you make a new will and don't tell your loved ones, they might try to probate the old will at your former attorney's office.
  • Your attorney likely will charge a fee for this service.

If you do store your will at your attorney's office, write down your lawyer's name and contact information for your executor—and anyone else you trust, in case something happens to your executor. And make sure to let them know if you make a new will and where it is stored.

Storing a Will With a Probate Court

Some states let you file your will with your local probate court for safekeeping before you die. Courts tend to be very secure, but they still have drawbacks that you need to consider.

Pros:

  • In most cases, you won't have to worry about something happening to your will or it not being found—though even courts can misplace things.
  • It should be easy for you to access during court hours—but possibly easy for others to access as well (see below).
  • If you file it with the court where your estate will be probated, it will already be in the court's hands when you pass away.

Cons:

  • Privacy may be an issue. Some states will keep your will private by storing it under seal until you die—at which point it becomes public. But, in most states, filing your will with the probate court for safekeeping makes it a public record, and you might not want your loved ones or others to be able to see the contents of your will before you die.
  • If you later make a new will, you'll need to file the new one with the court to make sure the old one isn't probated.
  • If you file multiple versions of your will with the court, beneficiaries might be able to see the changes that were made over time. This could cause hurt feelings and conflict between beneficiaries.
  • Even though you stored your will with the court, the court likely won't automatically probate your will when you die. Your executor might need to file additional paperwork to open probate with the court. Failing to file this paperwork could cause delay.
  • The court will charge you a fee.

Before you use this option, make sure you understand what state laws and local court rules say about storing wills at a court. You also should let your executor know about the filing to avoid wasted time trying to track down a will that's already with the court.

Storing a Will in a Safe Deposit Box

Many people get a safe deposit box at a bank and keep all of their important papers in it, like their will, power of attorney, and other estate planning documents. Although a safe deposit box is a very safe option, it has several drawbacks that cause many attorneys to advise against it.

Pros:

  • It's private and is one of the safest places to store a will—only people with keys and who are listed on the safe deposit box contract will have access to it.

Cons:

  • It might be too safe of an option. In many states, the right to open the box may die along with you, and getting permission to open the box to check for a will might require a court order, which would cause delays.
  • Banks are notorious for being very cautious about allowing people into safe deposit boxes. Even if a bank has documentation that other people have your permission to open the box, it might still be reluctant to allow them to open it.
  • If no one knows about the box, they won't think to look there. They also won't be able to access it if they don't know where you keep the key.
  • You will have to pay a fee for a safe deposit box.
  • Your survivors will be able to retrieve your will only during bank hours.

If you decide to store your will in a safe deposit box, you need to talk to your bank to make sure it will let your executor—or other people you name—access the safe deposit box when you die. You could consider letting your executor or other trusted person have an extra key in case yours is misplaced.

Some banks will allow you to name a revocable living trust as the owner of the safe deposit box. This option lets your successor trustee access the box after your death without having to get a court order. Unfortunately, many banks do not allow trusts to own a safe deposit box, so it might be difficult to find a bank willing to do so.

Storing a Will in Your Home

You might decide to keep your will in a safe location in your home such as in your desk, a locked filing cabinet, or a fireproof safe or lockbox. But before automatically saying, "There's no place like home," think about whether this is the best option for you.

Pros:

  • This option is free—except for the cost of a fireproof and waterproof lockbox or safe.
  • If you need to update your will quickly, you will be able to access the old one without having to go to a court, a bank, or law firm to retrieve it.
  • Your loved ones probably will be able to find it easily after your death.

Cons:

  • If you don't use a fireproof and waterproof lockbox or safe, an original will easily can be destroyed in a fire, flood, or natural disaster.
  • Your will could get lost or thrown out if you put it in a random drawer or box with other papers. It also will be hard for your loved ones to find after you die, especially if you are not organized.
  • If you don't store it in a secure lockbox or safe, it might be too easy for others to find it and take a peek—or even try to change items in the will.
  • A small, portable lockbox could be easily misplaced—especially during a move—or could be stolen during a break in.

If you choose to store a will in your home, the safest bet is a fireproof, waterproof safe or lockbox. There are plenty of reasonably priced options available that are great for storing a will. As with any other storage place, let your loved ones know where your will is located so that they can quickly find it after your death.

Storing a Will With Your Executor

Another option is to keep your will with your executor. It can be comforting to know it's with a person you trust, but you'll need to consider whether your executor's home is a better option than your own.

Pros:

  • Your executor will have quick and easy access to your will when it's time to submit it to the probate court.
  • If your executor has the same security measures—like a lockbox or safe—as you, then it will be as secure as it would be in your home.

Cons:

  • If your executor is unorganized, your will could be lost.
  • If your executor dies before you, you'll need a plan to retrieve your original will. If you can't access it, you will have to execute a new will.
  • If you don't want your executor to know the will's contents, privacy could be an issue. The executor might peek at your will or leave it unsecured—creating the possibility that others might see it.
  • It could be difficult to access your will if your executor moves, goes on vacation, or becomes incapacitated.
  • Conflict could arise if you need to tell your executor that you have executed a new will and have chosen a new executor.

An executor must be extremely trustworthy and well organized if you are considering this option. In most cases, it's probably better to store your will elsewhere.

Using Online Document Storage to Store Your Will

A newer option that's growing in popularity is to use an online storage service. A number of online document storage options are available that can store electronic versions of your important documents. But this option might not be the best in many states.

Pros:

  • An electronic copy stored online cannot be damaged by floods or fires.
  • Your documents will be easy for you to access—if you don't lose your password.
  • Some online services will alert your loved ones after you die about where your documents are located.

Cons:

  • Most states don't yet recognize electronic wills (see below), so you'll still need a paper will with original signatures even if you use an online document storage company to keep a copy.
  • Privacy could be a concern. We've all heard the stories of large data breaches. If you choose an online document storage company, make sure they have the most up-to-date security and find out how they would deal with a breach.
  • Similar to a safe's combination or safe deposit box's key, online storage requires a password. You'll need to make sure your executor is able to use your password or that the online storage company will make your files accessible to your executor.
  • Online document storage for estate planning documents is still a developing service, and the companies that offer it may go out of business or pivot, so you might need to keep an eye out for such changes.
  • These services charge fees.

Is an Electronic Will Legal?

Less than a third of states allow electronic wills, and a few of the states that do recognize them have strict requirements on how these wills are stored with online "custodians."

If your state doesn't accept electronic wills, online storage won't replace keeping a hard copy of your original will in a secure but accessible location. But you might decide to keep electronic copies of your will in case your original will is lost. Probate judges often will not accept a copy of an original will, but they might accept one if there's other evidence that it's a valid copy.

Sharing Copies of Your Will With Others

Regardless of where you keep your original will, you might want to consider sharing copies of it with loved ones—if you trust them and don't think doing so will cause conflicts—so that they can present the copy to a judge if your original will is lost. (But as mentioned, courts are often reluctant to accept copies.)

Depending on your family dynamics, giving copies of your will to loved ones also might make it less likely that they will argue. After all, they will know your intentions up front and won't be surprised by any decisions you've made. On the other hand, if you're likely to revise your will later, you might not want to distribute copies of it, because copies of an old will can lead to confusion or conflict.

If you decide to share a copy of your will, you can keep a digital copy with an online document storage service (see above), or you can share it more informally—for example, by scanning your original will or even taking a photo of it and sending the document to your executor or other trusted person. Or you can make a physical copy and hand it to a loved one.

If you do give your loved ones copies, you'll need to keep them informed if you make a new will, and you'll need to provide them with copies of the new one. You might also want to locate copies of the old will and destroy them.

No Matter Where You Keep Your Will, Make Sure the Right People Know

You might have noticed a common theme: Your executor or other loved ones need to know where you keep your will. If they can't find it after you die, the probate court will use your state's intestacy laws to distribute your property, and the wishes you expressed in your will, as well as the effort of making it, will have been for nothing. So, no matter where you decide to keep your will, let trusted people know where to find it, as well as any key, password, or other information required to gain access to it. And if you make a new will or update any passwords or codes, remember to keep these people informed of the changes.

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