Storing and Protecting Your Estate Planning Documents

The only thing worse than dying without a will is dying with a will which cannot be located.

The location of your original will is important. There is only one original will – the one that is signed by the willmaker and the witnesses. This original will should be safely guarded.  If the original cannot be found, the law will presume that the willmaker intended to revoke the will.  If an original will is destroyed in circumstances that clearly do not reflect the intention by the willmaker to revoke the will, a copy of the will may be admitted to Probate.

Here are some options for where to keep your will:

(1)        At Home, In a Safe

Some willmakers prefer to keep their wills at home.  Keeping your will at home has the some benefits: it is a no-cost option, and your original will is easily accessible in case you wish to change it in a rush.

However, if you choose to keep your will at home, be sure to consider the risks.  Your will could be damaged or destroyed in a fire or flood. Your will could be accidentally or intentionally destroyed by someone other than you. Your will may be in an unknown location, making it hard for your family to deal with your Estate.

(2)        Safety Deposit Box

Most financial institutions have safety deposit boxes in which you could keep your will. The benefit of keeping the will in a safety deposit box is that the original may only be retrieved by the Executor upon the death of the willmaker. This should ensure that family members will have access to the copy, while protecting the original from alteration, destruction or removal.

Safety deposit boxes have the added benefit of being housed in a more secure setting than the home and provide greater protection against destruction of the will in the event of a disaster.

Keeping the will in a safety deposit box at the financial institution where the willmaker holds accounts is preferable because the willmaker’s financial accounts are invariably examined upon death in order to determine the extent of the Estate. During such preliminary investigations the will can be retrieved by any party named as Executor in the will. Safety deposit boxes are also preferable because Banks have systems specifically designed for the long term storage of documents and goods, unlike law firms.

(3)        At your Lawyer’s Office

Your lawyer may be able to store your Will at their office. Not all lawyers have the facilities to keep your original will. While these wills are kept in a secure safe, it is preferable to both the willmaker and their lawyer to keep the original in the willmaker’s home or in a safety deposit box.

While storing the will at a law firm provides a degree of security, i.e. the will is physically protected in a safe and outside parties other than the willmaker may not have access, absent the willmaker’s permission, law firms often end up with large volumes of wills going back decades. This provides administrative problems for the law firms and the willmaker because:

(a)        the law firm may not survive the willmaker; or

(b)        the drafting solicitor may not survive the willmaker; or

(c)        the drafting solicitor may not be employed by the Firm at the time of the willmaker’s death; or

(d)        the willmaker may die without revealing to anyone that the Firm held a copy of the Will.[1]

All of these events could lead to the will being misplaced or unavailable upon the death of the willmaker, creating unnecessary administrative hassle for the Executor(s) and Beneficiaries of the Estate, possibly even resulting in intestacy.

[1] If a client insists on storing their will with us we recommend that the client record the location of their will with the BC Vital Statistics Wills Notice Registry to avoid the problem discussed in (d) above.