I will often have people call to update their will. When I meet with them they usually have a copy of the will to show me. I will usually ask them if they know where their original will is located. Most know – or think they know – but it always amazes me how many people aren’t sure where it is.
In these times, photocopies and digital copies are very common and generally accepted as “legal” for most purposes. However, in some circumstances the original is required. An individual’s will is one such circumstance. Upon the death of an individual, in order to probate a will, the original document must be presented to the Clerk of Superior Court. Copies of the will are generally not accepted, or at the very least require more complex and costly procedures be followed to establish the terms of the will. At first glance, this may seem like a harsh result, but when you consider the rationale, this law actually does make sense. There is a presumption that when the original will cannot be located, it was intentionally destroyed for purposes of revoking the will. It is too great a burden to expect the maker of a will to locate all photocopies and to destroy them as well. Therefore, the original must be produced.
So, do you know where your original will is? And if you do, will your family know where to find it once you pass away? The best places to keep your will is someplace “safe.” Opinions vary on just where that is and to some extent it depends on how an individual handles their own affairs. Some people prefer a fireproof safe kept in their home, a safety deposit box at a bank, or in the vault of the County Clerk. There are advantages and disadvantages to each of these options. The main thing is to make sure your executor knows where you are keeping the will or at least make it easy to find upon your death. And if you are using a safety deposit box at a bank, make sure your executor will have access to it upon your death by adding them to the signature card at the bank and providing them with a key or letting them know where to find a key.
This may seem like basic recordkeeping to many people, but you would be surprised at how often family members know their loved one had a will, but they just cannot locate it. There have even been situations where years after the decedent’s death a family member stumbles upon the will, after the property has already been divided up according to intestate succession (the law for estate distributions for individuals who die without a will). Don’t let this happen to you! Put your will in a safe place where your loved ones can locate it when the time comes.