Most people understand the importance of making an estate plan: to provide for the future security of your loved ones and distribute your possessions according to your wishes after your death. But many people fail to consider the importance of details such as where an estate plan, once completed, should be kept for safekeeping. Should you keep your will at your lawyer's office?
There are advantages and disadvantages to keeping your will, trust, or other estate plan documents at your lawyer's office. (At Gudorf Law, we recommend a trust-based estate plan for most clients, but understand that many people choose to have a last will and testament.)
Understand that when we refer to your estate planning documents, we are talking about the original documents executed (signed) by you. You may choose to have multiple copies of your estate plan, but only an original, executed last will and testament will be recognized by a probate court. Under some circumstances a court may admit copies as evidence of what an original will said, but it is important to produce an original unless doing so is not possible.
The principal advantage of keeping your will at your lawyer's office is so that it will not get lost or destroyed and will be safe. Many, though not all, attorneys, provide this service to their clients as an accommodation. Attorneys who are willing to store clients' original wills typically have excellent document storage systems.
Another reason you might want to store your will with your attorney is to spare your loved ones the need to search for it among your papers and possessions, as well as helping them to be certain that they have the most recent copy of the will. And, of course, when it comes time to retrieve and probate the will from the attorney, your executor will have the option of retaining an attorney who is already familiar with you and your estate.
At Gudorf Law, we recommend that clients store their own estate plans in a home safe or a fire-resistant box that can be purchased at Walmart or a similar store, for the reasons identified below. Our office also scans and makes a copy of all estate planning documents. This service is available through our client portal for all of our Legacy Club members. Children and other advisors can be added at no charge, and clients have the ability to upload other important documents to the client portal.
The practice of attorneys "safekeeping" clients' wills at their office originated in a time when most people did not have a secure place in their home for the storage of valuable or important papers. Nowadays, people have access to home safes and other secure storage options, so "safekeeping" with an attorney isn't as much of a priority.
Aside from the fact that there are other choices for keeping your will safe, there are other reasons you might not want to keep your original will at your lawyer's office. Your heirs or executors might feel obligated to retain the attorney who stored the will to probate the estate, although the attorney should make clear that there is no obligation to do so. You may also find it is simply more convenient to keep your estate planning documents closer at hand.
Then, too, there is the question of what happens to your documents if your attorney retires from practice or dies. In a multi-lawyer firm, another attorney might assume responsibility for your file. If your lawyer was a sole practitioner, it is less clear what would happen to documents in storage. Certainly whoever is closing up the office is obligated to make efforts to find you and return your will to you, but it could take months or longer for this to happen.
If your attorney is willing to store your estate plan, and you conclude that this is the best option for you, ask if the office has a written policy covering the retention and disposal of client documents and files. Ask how and where the documents will be stored, and how your executor should go about getting your will released to him or her. Of course, if you go this route, you will have to let your executor know how to find and access your will. On balance, it is probably more convenient to store your documents in a safe or fire-resistant storage box in your home.
Ohio Revised Code section 2107.07 says that a testator (maker of a will) can deposit his or her will in the office of the judge of the probate court in the county in which he or she resides. For a fee of five dollars, the judge will retain the original will and give you a certificate of deposit (receipt) for the will, stating the name of the drafting attorney and executor.
While you are alive, the court will deliver your will only to you at your request, or to a person you authorize. After your death, the will will be delivered to a person named in the endorsement on the envelope of the will if that person requests it. Historically , trusts were not allowed to be stored in the probate court, though that has recently changed.
One place you should NEVER store your will? Your safe deposit box at the bank. The only person authorized to access it after your death is your executor, who must be granted that authority by the court, which requires the original will to do so, but the original will is...in the safe deposit box.
If you have additional questions about the preparation and storage of your trust, will or other estate planning documents, we invite you to contact Gudorf Law to schedule a consultation.
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