If you spent any time worrying over whether to have a Last Will and Testament (a “will”), you may have read many articles about how a will is a critical part of a comprehensive estate plan. You probably realized that a will can offer many benefits upon your death for your estate and your loved ones. Hopefully based on this, you finally drafted your will.
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So now what? Many of the articles that may have convinced you to draft your will probably did not tell you what to do with your will once you drafted it. But in this article, you will learn exactly what to do with your will once you have fully executed it so that your will remains safe and accessible when you die.
Secure Places You Should Keep Your Will
Having a fully executed will serves no purpose if your will is either destroyed, lost, stolen, or inaccessible after you die. Also, you may not want other people to see your will before you die. So when choosing where to keep your will, you will want to make sure you keep it where it will be:
- Safe and secure. You will want to keep your will in a secure location where it will not be damaged or destroyed by fire, water, or other elements.
- Accessible to your executor. Your executor is the person you name in your will to administer your estate when you die and who will be responsible for filing your will with the probate court. You will want to be sure your executor knows where you keep your will and that your executor can easily access it after you die.
- Private. If you do not want anyone else to see your will before you die, you should keep your will in a private place where others are not likely to access it without your consent.
Here are seven places to keep your will so that when you die, your will can be located and submitted to the probate court.
1. With your attorney
The best place to leave your will after it is executed is with your attorney. Even if you did not use an attorney to draft your will but used an online service or drafted the will yourself, you can still retain an attorney to maintain your will in a safe place until you die. There are several advantages to leaving your will with an attorney. An attorney will:
- Keep your will in a safe place, where it will be less likely to be damaged, destroyed, lost, or stolen
- Be able to amend, validly revoke, or create a codicil (a codicil is a supplement) to your will if you ever wish to alter your will in these ways
- Be able to contact your executor when you die and will know the procedure for filing your will in the probate court
- Unlike when an executor dies, if an attorney dies or retires, there is an established protocol for making sure your will is properly handled by a successor attorney or law firm so that someone else knows that you have a will and where it is located
- Keep your will private and not disclose any information to anyone without your consent
It may be sufficient to leave your will with other people. But for these reasons, it is usually an attorney that offers the greatest likelihood that your will remains safe, accessible, and private before you die.
2. With your executor
If you did not use an attorney and are uninterested in retaining one to hold your will, the next best place to leave your will is with your executor. Your executor is the person who will file your will in probate court when you die. If your executor already possesses your will, it is easy for them to file it in a timely manner. They will not have to locate your will with other people or among your possessions.
Aside from leaving your will with your attorney or your executor, there are alternative places you can leave your will. In those cases, you must take precautions to make sure the will is safe, accessible, and private, if you leave your will in the places described below.
3. In your home safe
Many people leave their will in their home safe. This offers some advantages that may be important to you. For example, a home safe is usually fireproof and water-resistant, so it will protect your will for a long time. Also if no one else has access to the safe, your will is likely to remain private while locked inside.
However, if you lock your will in a safe, you must be sure to notify your executor (or someone else who can notify your executor) where the will is located and how to access the will. You should provide your executor with a duplicate key or the combination to your safe so that when you die, your executor can easily access your will and file it in court.
4. In a safe-deposit box at your bank
As with a home safe, it is common for people to leave their will in a safe-deposit box at their bank. A safe-deposit box will protect your will from the elements and from being stolen. It also will maintain your privacy.
However, unless your executor or relative is named as a co-signatory for the safe-deposit box, it can be very difficult and time-consuming for someone else to be able to access the box and obtain your will after you die. You must let a co-owner of the safe deposit box know that you left your will in the box and that they are authorized to obtain your will and provide it to your executor when you die.
Of course, one practical difficulty in keeping your will at the bank is that you may not have immediate access to your will when you want to amend or revoke your will.
5. In a digital archive on your computer
Although not necessarily recommended for most people in the age of virtual wills and electronic signatures, it may be possible to maintain your fully executed will in a digital archive so that your executor or your attorney may access your will when you die. This may require that you provide appropriate passwords and security codes to your executor.
Although you may freely access your will to make amendments or revoke it, you must be sure to complete a proper witnessing and execution each time.
The greatest concern with using a digital archive to store your will is the risk of accidental disclosure or unauthorized access by others. Despite any concerns, however, digital archives are now available as a means of storing your will before death.
6. With the probate court through pre-mortem probate
A minority of jurisdictions provide for “pre-mortem probate.” Pre-mortem probate is a process by which you may file your fully executed will with the probate court before your death. The benefit of this is that the court can determine the validity of your will and prevent another party from contesting its validity after you die. When you die, your executor will simply notify the court and your will is already submitted for probate.
The drawback of using a pre-mortem probate is that there is an added burden of withdrawing and refiling your will if you wish to amend or revoke your will. When you use a pre-mortem probate, your will is not immediately accessible to you after it is filed in pre-mortem probate.
In addition, when your will is filed with the probate court, your will becomes a public document and fully accessible by third parties. You must balance the benefit of filing your will pre-mortem with the drawbacks that accompany this unique process.
7. With your personal belongings
Many people feel that leaving their executed will among their personal belongings — among their documents in their personal home office, for example — is sufficient for assuring that someone will find their will when they die. This may well be the case. It also allows you easy access to your will if you are considering future amendments. However, leaving your will in your open personal space introduces too many opportunities for something to “go wrong.” For example:
- Your will could be misplaced or accidentally mixed-in with other documents or papers
- Your will could be accidentally discarded with other papers that are thrown away or shredded
- Anyone with access to your personal space could read your will
- Your will could be lost or stolen, in which case the court will assume that you revoked your will before you died
- Someone with an interest in your will could access your will and alter it to their benefit without your knowledge
Oftentimes a person leaves their will in their open personal space and the will is validly probated without incident or issue upon their death. However, it is not recommended that you rely on this as a safe, secure, and private place to store your will.
Who Should You Inform Where You Keep Your Will?
At the very least, you should make sure to inform your executor where you keep your will. It is your executor who must locate your will and file your will in court. It also may be appropriate to inform your attorney where you keep your original will if you are not keeping it with your attorney.
Depending on how many people you care to tell, there may be little harm in telling a trusted family member or friend where you keep your will. When you die, someone who is likely to be aware of your death will be able to notify your executor and provide access to your will.
You can easily inform family, friends, and other trusted people where you will is (and even upload a digital copy of your will to share) by making a free Cake profile.
There Are Many Places You Can Keep Your Will Before You Die
When considering where to keep your fully executed will before you die, you should consider that it will be important to keep your will somewhere safe, secure, and protected from the elements. In addition, depending on your level of comfort, you can have it in a place that is private or easily accessible by your executor, attorney, or close family member.
Addressing concerns like safety, security, accessibility, and ease can help you feel a sense of relief when it comes to something as important as your last will and testament.
And if you're interested in unique ways to honor and continue someone's legacy, you can consider a custom urn from a store like Foreverence or even have a memorial diamond made from ashes with a company like Eterneva.