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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.