Forming a valid Will under state law is an important part of effective estate planning. However, no matter how detailed your Will is or how accurately it reflects your wishes, it will have no legal effect if no one knows about it.
One of the most common questions we hear about the estate planning process is, “Where should I keep my finalized Will, and who should know where my Will is located?” In answering these questions, it is important to consider safety and accessibility. There is no law that mandates proper Will storage, but making an informed decision with guidance from an attorney can help ensure that your Will has its intended legal effect when you pass away.
The most important thing to consider when choosing a location for your finalized Will is safety. A probate court will want to have the original version of the Will with wet (original) signatures to ensure accuracy. As such, it is critical to keep the original Will in top condition.
One effective way to ensure Will safety is to file it with your local branch of the superior court. According to North Carolina General Statutes § 31-11, the clerk of the superior court must maintain a depository wherein any resident can store their Will. Additionally, only the testator of the Will or a person with direct authority from the testator can remove the document. This prevents tampering and can give testators peace of mind about the safety of their Wills.
Of course, there is no requirement to store one’s Will in this way. Many people anticipate the need for changes to their Will in the future. Others may feel more secure having their Will closer to home. In these situations, an attorney may offer to keep an original Will under lock and key in their office. Alternatively, a person could purchase a waterproof and fireproof safe to store their Will in their home. While a person can rent a safe deposit box in a bank to store their Will, there are complications that come with accessing the safety deposit box after the owner has died. Ultimately, choosing a safe location to keep a Will is a personal choice, but it is recommended that you try to limit the number of people who have access to the document.
The executor of a Will carries the responsibility of distributing your assets after you die. For 60 days after your death, only this person can submit your Will to the probate court. As such, it is essential that the executor knows where you have chosen to keep your Will. Upon your death, that executor can then contact the superior court, your attorney, or the custodian of your safe deposit box.
Outside of the executor, it is usually best to limit the number of people that know the location of your Will. This can prevent others from attempting to access the document or learning of its contents against your wishes.
A Will is a powerful document. Properly executed, it can ensure that your desires are accomplished after your death. Accordingly, it is best to keep your Will in a safe location such as the superior court, your attorney’s office, a waterproof and fireproof safe in your residence, or a safe deposit box.
In addition to securing the original copy, always be sure to let the executor know of your Will’s location. Outside of that, you should try to limit who has knowledge of the Will’s location. Consult a knowledgeable lawyer today to learn more about proper Will storage.