So, you finally did it: you made and signed your will. Now, where do you store the original? We get this question a lot from Solo Agers, particularly those who have named me as executor in their wills.
Can you keep your will at home?
It’s not a good idea, even if you have a fireproof box or filing cabinet. The big drawback (at least in New York) is the legal presumption of intentional revocation. Meaning, if you lose the original (in absence of evidence), the court will assume that you intentionally destroyed it.
If you store it with the court, lawyer, or executor, they do not have the right to revoke your will. If your executor loses your will, they can still potentially probate a copy of your will.
Storing your will in a safe deposit box is a bad idea. Getting into someone’s safe deposit box after death can be a pain. That pain is compounded if the will that authorizes your executor to access the safe deposit box is in the safe deposit box!
Does probate court keep original will?
Yes, there is a mechanism called “filing a will for safekeeping” in the New York courts. You go to your local county surrogate’s court and pay a fee of $45.00. They will keep it in the court’s vault.
The benefit of filing a will with the court is that it’s a centralized process. One of the first things we do when we probate an estate is to check with the court to see if they have the will.
However, there are two major cons: 1) A publicly filed will is a semi-public record. This doesn’t mean that anyone can walk in and look at it. Rather, suppose you make a new will years after you filed your first will with the court. Maybe you forgot you ever filed the first will, and now your executor is probating your subsequent will, which names different beneficiaries. Your executor may need to notify the beneficiaries of the first will. This is probably not the case if you didn’t file your will with the court. 2) Another drawback is: which court do you file it with? What if you file it in Manhattan, but then you move to Long Island? Probate occurs where you die. If the will isn’t stored in that court, then the benefit of checking the court for the will doesn’t exist anymore.
Do lawyers keep original wills?
Yes, some lawyers offer fireproof storage for wills, trusts, and other client documents. Most do not charge a fee for this. Not all lawyers offer to hold wills due to the risk involved. As mentioned above, if the lawyer loses your will, the executor should still be able to probate a copy.
Should I give my will to the executor?
Generally, the answer is no. However, a professional executor lawyer is set up to safely store your will. Most amateur executors (family, friends) are not set up and have the same issues as you for where to store it.
To find out more on this topic, check out my book, “How to Hire an Executor,” available on Amazon.