After going through the estate planning process and getting everything signed and witnessed, you leave the lawyer's office with your will in hand. But where does it (or should it) go from there? We are often asked this question. Though there are several options, the best answer is where someone can find it.
A will is part of an estate plan. It names a personal representative to act on your behalf after your death to ensure your wishes are followed. The will directs how your estate should be distributed. You can also name a guardian to act for minor children in a will. In any case, the person name as personal representative should have your original will to start the probate process, if needed. In some cases, not having the original will can cause real trouble for your beneficiaries and loved ones.
The simplest and often the best option is to store your will in your home in a safe. Ideally, the safe would be waterproof and fireproof. Storing your will at home is a good place since it is usually where someone might start looking. Keeping your will with other important documents, like your vehicle titles, real estate documents, marriage certificate, power of attorney, and the like, can make things convenient for the personal representative.
Many people we meet with ask about storing
their wills in a safe deposit box. This can be a good solution for storing the will someplace where it will not get lost. However, it is very important that your personal representative or beneficiaries know the exact location of your safe deposit box. If they only know that you have a safe deposit box, but do not know where, you could end up sending your loved ones on a search of every bank in town only to come up empty-handed. Some states also have strict requirements for when a safe deposit box can be opened after someone's death. In Minnesota, a bank will allow the box to be opened for the purpose of conducting a will search. If a will is found, the original will be delivered to a Minnesota probate court. This can make things a little cumbersome. However, if your personal representative is a joint owner on the safe deposit box he or she will have immediate access to its contents.
You also have the option of storing your will with the probate court. For a small fee, the county probate court will store your will until the time it is needed. Again, your loved ones need to know where to look first. Storing your will with the court also creates some challenges when you update your will. Rather than reaching into your safe or safe deposit box, you need to go through the court to replace your old will with your new one.
Sometimes we are working with clients that had their previous estate plan done at a different lawyer's office, and that firm retained the clients' wills in their vault. This generally does not cause any problems with drafting new documents, but it does raise the question of whether they should keep their new wills at our office. As a matter of practice, we do not store clients wills for them. However, we do keep a copy of wills in the client file.
Determining where to store your will after completing an estate plan is sometimes an overlooked part of the process, but it is ultimately one of the most important decisions. After all, your loved ones must know what is in your will in order to execute it.
Are you ready to start your estate plan? Contact an estate planning attorney today by calling (507) 288-5567 or use the form on our Contact page.
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