Where to Keep a Will for Safekeeping
Drafting a last will and testament is a major accomplishment. By creating a will, you are suddenly ahead of most other Americans, many of whom die without a single estate planning document to their name. You can now breathe a sigh of relief in full knowledge that you are providing for your loved ones at death.
However, you also need to make an intelligent choice about where you store your will. A will must be submitted to the probate court after your death, so it needs to be stored in a place that is safe and accessible. If no one can find your will after you pass, then it’s as if you died without any will at all. Below, our estate planning lawyer identifies which popular locations are actually terrible places to store a will and provides better alternatives. Contact Surasky Law Firm if you have any questions about will and probate law.
Avoid Storing a Will in These Locations
First, let’s identify places where you shouldn’t store the will. Some people choose these options only to create headaches for their loved ones later:
· Filing cabinet at home. You might accidentally throw it out if you keep it with other papers, like old bank notices or photocopies of documents.
· Under the bed. This sounds like a safe place, but other people might not know it’s there. Also, it could get damaged in a fire or a storm.
· In a drawer. This is risky for all the same reasons as putting it in a filing cabinet. Some people are suddenly seized with a desire to clean out their junk drawers and toss everything in it—including their wills.
· In the cloud. Digital storage is great for many documents because you free up space in your home. There is also a safe, digital copy available for access from any computer or laptop. However, a digital will is not valid in South Carolina.
· With your child. You might give a copy of your will to your eldest child and expect them to submit it to the probate court at death. This is a valid option, as we explain below. But there’s a risk. Your child might read the will and realize they aren’t inheriting as much as they would like. Consequently, they hide the will after your death and inherit a greater amount due to South Carolina’s intestacy rules.
Instead, Store a Will Here
So where should you store your will if not in your sock drawer? Here are the best options.
A lawyer not only helps draft an effective will, but they can store it for you after you sign it. Your lawyer will stay on top of death notices to see if any of their clients have died. Alternatively, you can tell your family the name of your lawyer after you pass. The lawyer will then either provide the will to the family or go ahead and file it with the probate court.
Your lawyer should also have a failsafe document storage system in place so they don’t accidentally throw it out or leave it vulnerable to water damage. Your lawyer is also ethically obligated not to share the contents of the will with anyone else without your permission.
Are There Any Negatives to Storing Your Will With Your Lawyer?
Maybe the only one is that the lawyer might close up shop before you die, so make sure you hire a lawyer with a long track record of service to clients.
Your Personal Representative
This person is responsible for guiding your estate through probate. You can give them a copy of your will for safekeeping. Of course, this isn’t a 100% fail-safe method. What if they throw out paperwork or can’t remember where they put the will after you die?
However, you should have chosen someone responsible to serve in this role, so they should be sufficiently organized to hang onto your will.
Another risk is that they die before you, in which case they can’t fulfill their role. You will need to retrieve the will or give a copy to your new personal representative.
Children or Close Friends
You can also give a copy of your will to a child. This is an okay option if you are leaving them a fair amount. If you died without a will, then your children would inherit the estate equally between them (if no spouse survives you). So if you have two children, they will each inherit one half. If you are leaving one child more than 50%, you should give him or her the copy of the will. The other child would be tempted to hide it.
You can also give your child a copy and keep the original in a secure location, such as a safe at your home. That should keep you from accidentally throwing the will out or risking damage in a fire or rainstorm. Remember to tell your children the password to the safe or where they can find a key.
You might also choose to give a copy to a close friend, which is also an option.
Safe Deposit Box
Many people like this option because banks have a reputation for providing security. If you store it in a safe deposit box, you will need to tell your family that the will is there. You will also need to coordinate with banks about who should be given access to the box.
Some banks require that anyone given access to the box sign as a joint renter. There are risks with this approach. They will probably gain unrestricted access to the box and anything else in it. Do you want them to read your will before you pass? Are you storing jewels, cash, or other valuables in the box? They will gain access to them as well.
If you don’t add them as a joint renter, then it’s harder for them to access the box when you die. But can an executer open a safety deposit box? Section 34-19-50 of the South Carolina Code says that the bank must deliver a copy of the will to the person named as executor (personal representative) or to the probate court. However, as family, you will undoubtedly need to request that the bank look in the box for the will.
How Long Should You Keep Your Most Current Will?
It's important to keep your most current will for as long as it remains valid and accurately reflects your wishes. Generally, we recommend reviewing and updating your will every few years, especially when significant life events such as marriages, divorces, births, or major asset acquisitions or disposals occur.
Does an Attorney Keep a Copy of Your Will?
Typically, attorneys keep a copy of the original will as part of their legal services. This practice ensures the will's safekeeping and can expedite the probate process when the time comes. However, it's essential to clarify this with your attorney and discuss their specific policy regarding will storage to have a clear understanding of where your original will is located.
Surasky Law Will Keep Your Will Safe
Our law firm has provided will and probate services to the Aiken, SC community for decades. For assistance with drafting a will, give us a call today. We will also safekeep your will so you have nothing to worry about.