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How to Safely Store Your Will

Learn the options of where you can safely keep your will - and the pros and cons of each one.

By , Attorney

You've made your will, now what should you do with it? Ideally, you keep it in a place where it will be safe from disasters like fire or flood, secure from thieves or snoops, but also easy for your loved ones to find when the time comes.

Let's take a look at the pros and cons of some of the places where you may consider keeping your will.

With Your Lawyer

If an attorney drafted your will, you might want to store it at your attorney's law office. Lawyers often have their own safe deposit box or vault for storing clients' documents. Some states may have specific rules about how lawyers must safeguard important client documents like wills. But, there are several drawbacks to this option. For example:

  • You or your survivors might not know how to locate your will if your attorney dies, retires, or moves to a new law firm.
  • Your attorney might lose the only original of the will.
  • Your attorney might not have the most up to date will if you decide to ever change your will or make a new one. If your survivors knew you had a certain lawyer and get that version, this can create confusion if another will is found.

If you don't plan on making any changes to your will and have used the same attorney for many years, leaving your will with your lawyer may feel like the best option. If you do store your will at your attorney's office, write down your lawyer's name and contact information for your executor.

Probate Court

Some states let you file your will with the probate court or other designated court before you die. If you go with this option, you don't have to worry about something happening to your will or it not being found.

In some states, filing your will with the probate court makes it a public record that anyone can see right away, and this may raise concerns about privacy. However, in most states, will documents only become public record when an estate case goes through probate.

If you later make changes to your will, you'll need to update your document with the court. Multiple versions of your will may be kept in the court record, and beneficiaries may be able to see the changes that were made over time.

If you use this option, let your executor know about the filing so that he or she won't waste time trying to track down your will when it's already with the court.

Safe Deposit Box

Many people get a safe deposit box and keep all of their important papers in it, like their will, power of attorney, and other estate planning documents. The benefit of using a safe deposit box is that it's private, and only people with keys and who are listed on the safe deposit box contract will have access to it. However, laws about who can open a safe deposit box vary by state and can cause serious difficulties. 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 may require a court order, which will likely cause delays.

Also, 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.

If you decide to store your will in a safe deposit box, let your executor or other trusted person know about it and make sure they have the legal right to access it (usually through a form you fill out at the bank). Give them an extra key in case they don't know where yours is. Some banks will allow you to name a revocable trust as the owner of the safe deposit box. This option lets you to give access to your successor trustee to the box for a seamless transition.

In Your Home

You may decide to keep your will in a safe location in your home such as in your desk, a locked filing cabinet, or fireproof safe. This option is easy and free. If you need to update your will, you know right where to find it. Also, your loved ones will probably be able to find it easily after death.

However, this option may not always be safe. The original will can be destoryed in a fire, flood, or natural disaster. Also, some people may not like this option because of privacy concerns. You might not want your loved ones to see your will before you die because you're concerned about how they will react to it.

If you store your will at home, keep it in a safe place that will protect it from physical damage or destruction. Let your loved ones know where your will is located so that they can quickly find it after your death.

With Your Executor

Another option is to keep your will with your executor. You may like knowing that it's with this trusted individual. Your executor will need to submit your will to the probate court when you pass, so it's important your executor knows where it is. If your executor has a secure place to keep it, this may be a good plan. If you decide to update your will, let your executor know so that he or she does not attempt to probate the old one. Also, have a backup plan in case your executor dies before you or is not available when your will is probated.

Online Document Storage

A newer option is to use an online storage service. A number of online document storage options are available that can keep your important documents private and safe from harm from floods or other physical damage. However, probate courts usually require the original will, so you will still need a paper will even if you use an online document storage option.

Some online services will alert your loved ones after about where your documents are located when they need them. This is a useful option if you have a safe location to store your documents but you want to keep them private until die or become incapacitated.

No Matter Where You Keep It – Make Sure the Right People Know

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. 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.

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