Where should you store a Will?

As part of the administration of a person’s estate, it must be determined whether the person died with or without a Will.  The Will, in conjunction with the probate code, dictates how the estate will be distributed.  Often, determining whether a Will exists can be difficult.  Some people are private about their affairs.  So private that the location of important documents like a Will are hidden.  There is a balance that must be struck between safeguarding the Will to ensure that a family member does not tamper with it or protecting them from peeking at its contents and hiding it so well that no one can find it.

The Probate Pro recommends that you store a Will and other estate planning documents in the most logical, safe, and secure place.  A firebox or safe kept at home is often the practical place to store a Will.

In the past, fireboxes and safes were costly.  Not anymore.  You can find inexpensive safes and fireboxes for about $40 at Walmart, Target, and the big box stores.  For less than the cost of storing your Will in a safe deposit box for an entire year, you can own a firebox or safe and keep it in the comforts of your home.

Many people (especially those of the older generation) prefer to keep important documents in a safe deposit box at a local bank.  Generally, The Probate Pro does not recommend using safe deposit boxes.  Why?  Banks are slow and busy.  Getting in and out of a safe deposit box can be a time consuming event.   Unless you enjoy spending a ton of time at your local bank, a safe or firebox is usually just as safe and much more accessible.

After the person’s death, safe deposit boxes can be difficult to access by the family.  Here is why.  First, banks are not open 24/7 (The Urban Dictionary defines banking hours as “Working or being open for the shortest and most inconvenient amount of time.”) Second, access to the safe deposit box by a non-owner generally requires a court order from the probate court (Ugh!).  Third, if a safe deposit key is lost, the banks levy large fees for a locksmith to open the box.  Most frustrating is the fact that if the decedent banked at a few locations, the family must go through the time consuming task of going to each bank to check to see if a safe deposit box exists.

You may be surprised to know that The Probate Pro rarely recommends to store a Will with a lawyer.  Yes, having a trusted lawyer keeping a copy is a wise idea.  The only party that benefits from a lawyer storing an original Will is the lawyer.  Why?  It forces the family to meet with the lawyer to obtain the original Will for probate, giving the lawyer an opportunity to make a pitch to do the legal work.

Another option to store a Will is the probate court in the county in which you live.  This option works well for people that are not trusting of keeping the Will at home.  However, the probate court is not such a practical place if you decide to move away or retire to another state.  Probate courts are well courts…  Not the easiest place to get to and generally not the most user friendly.  Also, banks often have better hours than probate courts!

The most important thing to remember when deciding where to store a Will is to safeguard it but not to hide it from everyone.  Hiding it means that no one may ever find it.  Remember to notify the at least one person (usually the nominated personal representative) of the whereabouts.