Your Will is a very important document that will be used to tell the Court how you want your assets to be divided in the event of your death.
Also, if you have minor children, your Will tells the Court who you want to have guardianship of your children in the event of your death. And of course, you Will names the person you want as the executor of your estate.
The Will really has no meaning until you die. Of course, if you have died, you won’t be around to tell anyone where to look for this very important document.
So that brings up the question….Where should I keep my Will?
In some states, a safe-deposit box in a bank can’t be opened until after the Executor gets the ‘letters’ from the court. But how do you know who the executor is without the Will in the first place? So in those states, your safe deposit box at the bank is a bad place to keep the Will.
Fortunately, in Virginia, the bank will allow the safe-deposit box to be opened for the express purpose of trying to locate the Will. If the Will is found in the box, the bank will make a copy of the Will, along with an inventory of the contents of the box, and you may take the original of the Will to Court while the copy and all of the contents (as well as the inventory) are left in the box.
I’ve also heard people say they leave all of their important papers in a zip-lock baggie in the freezer compartment of their refrigerator. That probably wouldn’t be my favorite place. The argument is that the freezer will probably be safe in the event of a fire or other disaster in the home, and they think people will know to look there. Personally, I only look in the freezer when I’m looking for ice cream!
You could leave the original Will with the attorney. But what happens when you haven’t been back to that attorney for a few years, and nobody in the family is aware of the attorney’s name or phone number? I guess each attorney could review the list of death notices every day to see if their client has died, but that’s just not going to happen.
My recommended place for your Will is in a fireproof box in your home.
The most important thing to remember is that wherever you decide to keep your Will (and all of your important papers, such as the deed to your house), you should make sure to tell your loved ones where they are!
I generally give my clients a binder with flexible sides so that it can forced to fit into a smaller space. This binder contains all of the estate planning documents in one place. I also include a section on ‘Important Contact Information’ so that my client can put in the names and phone numbers of all of the insurance agents, investment advisers, life insurance policy numbers, (etc.) as well as the contact information for all family members. That way, the loved one only has to pick up one binder and all of the information needed will be right there! I also suggest that my clients include a section on what they want to have done with their remains. That way, there is no question in the family about what you really would have wanted.
So, what is the right answer to my question, Where Should I keep my Will?
Wherever your loved ones will look for it!