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How Long Does an Attorney Hold Onto a Will?



Creating a last will and testament provides our clients with enormous peace of mind. Many heave a sigh of relief and say, “I’m so happy that’s done!” However, creating a will is only the first step. When a person dies, they need their family to submit the will to probate court. If the court doesn’t receive a will, then it’s as if the will never existed. 


For this reason, many clients have their lawyer keep the original will after they sign it. There are many advantages to this. For one, you can be sure the lawyer will keep your legal documents safe. You might throw away your will if you keep it at home on a desk, but a lawyer should be more careful. When you die, your family can contact your lawyer and ask for the original will. A probate court will not accept photocopies or a digital copy. 


Second, your lawyer can also help your family with probate. This is the process for administering an estate, and most estates go through probate, or at least a summary procedure. Only very small estates can skip probate altogether. Having an experienced lawyer to guide you through the process is a tremendous advantage. When the lawyer retrieves your loved one’s will from their filing cabinet, they will also offer their probate services. 


How Long Must a Lawyer Hold Onto a Will? 

A law firm should hold onto the will indefinitely if they agree to keep it. They have a duty to follow through on their promises to clients. If they say they will hang onto the will, they should make good on that promise. 


Of course, some law firms close their doors. Like everyone else, lawyers retire at some point to enjoy their Golden Years. In some cases, a lawyer will sell their practice to another firm, who then agrees to take on all the clients. The new firm should hold onto any wills they receive as part of this transaction. 


You can also reach an agreement with a lawyer for how long they will keep your will. Law firms are drowning with paper. It doesn’t make sense for them to keep a will for 50 or 100 years when it’s obvious someone has died. Many of our clients move away, make a new will in their new home state, and then the most recent will is submitted for probate. However, they don’t call us and let us know we can toss their old will. 


Will a Lawyer Be Notified When a Loved One Dies? 

This is a common question. A lawyer will only know your loved one died if their surviving family members call the lawyer. The lawyer might see an obituary in the newspaper or posted online, but that’s rare. 


What does this mean for you? If you are creating a will and want your lawyer to keep it, then you must tell your family the identity of your lawyer. It’s their responsibility to call up or visit and report the death to obtain a copy of the will. If they don’t take this step, then it’s unlikely a lawyer will find out the death on their own and drive over to the probate court to file the will. 


We recommend our clients draft a list of critical contacts and give it to their family. Include the name of your lawyer and note he or she has the will. 


Can a Lawyer Throw Out a Will? 

At some point, they might. This happens when a lawyer cannot sell his or her practice but still retires. There is no one to accept the client files. If the lawyer dies, then their surviving family members might end up cleaning out the law office or the filing cabinets in the garage. They will likely throw away all the paperwork. A lawyer’s family has no agreement with clients to preserve records.   


Before a lawyer retires, they should contact clients and give them the news. If they are selling the firm, they should include that information. You can then meet with the new lawyer. 


Unfortunately, some lawyers can’t sell their practices, especially in small towns where there are no other attorneys to buy it. They might try to sell it to a firm in a nearby city, but they are often uninterested. 

In that case, you need to go to the lawyer and get your original documents before they end up shredded or in a dumpster. Law firms can shut down, like any other business, and your legal documents could be lost. 


If you are ill, ask a family member to go retrieve your will and other documents, like a power of attorney designation. Your lawyer should understand any special circumstances and work with you to get these documents back in your possession. You can then hire another lawyer or store the will at home or in a safe deposit box. 


Call Our Law Firm Today 

The estate planning lawyer at Surasky Law Firm has helped hundreds of people with their estate planning needs. We can also help family members throughout the probate process. The personal representative has important duties and often benefits from the steady guidance of an experienced lawyer. Our firm has helped answer questions about which claims to accept and whether to initiate litigation on behalf of the estate. We can also talk about a wrongful death claim if a loved one dies in an accident. Call us today to ask any questions related to estate planning or probate.


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