Friday, September 14, 2018

Series: Estate Plannings Hardest Questions

Series: Estate Plannings Hardest Questions
#4 Where Should I Keep My Will?
By Melinda Gustafson Gervasi

"Well, let's put ink to paper and make this will legally binding" I say to a client in our final meeting.  Pens are passed around, pages are initialed, the witnessing completed. 

I slide the will into the kelly green folder each client receives to hold his or her completed forms.  The client, with eyes downcast on the desk puts the papers in order, and digests the fact they did it -- they completed or updated a will. 

Slowly the client's eyes move upward, connecting with mine, and then the question -- "now where do I keep this?"  Puzzlement clearly written across the face.

Copies of powers of attorney should hold the same legal authority as the original, however, that is not likely the case with a will.  It is very important to keep the original safe.  Many clients assume the safe deposit box is the answer.  What used to be the go-to may not be the wisest move today.  A will locked in a safe deposit box can be tricky to access once the testator has died.  I'll skip the technical hurdles that may develop and just say, personally, it's not my first choice for a will.

Many clients prefer to keep a will in their home fire box or gun safe.  This can work, however:

  • fire proof does not necessarily mean water proof (a weakness underscored by the recent historic flooding here in Southern Wisconsin);
  • thieves may walk away with your fire proof box hoping to find prescription drugs, passports, or cash -- put they may get your estate plan instead;
  • combinations need to be known by those who survive;
  • purging papers and clutter seems like a great activity, but it may result in the unassuming will being pitched into the shred box; and
  • it may take weeks for loved ones to sort through an entire home's contents to finally locate the will.
A cold Kentucky Rain -- image by Melinda Gustafson Gervasi, 2017

My will (and my spouse's will) are on file with the Dane County probate court, in a sealed enveloped assigned a file number.  When the time comes, they will be moved from one section of the courthouse to another, the probate office.  Minimal chance of destruction, theft, misplacement or unintentional destruction.  The fee in my county is $10/will......not per month or per year, just $10.

I wouldn't stop when the ink dries on the signature line, not asking the hard question, where will this will be safe until it is needed? No option is perfect for all testators (that's the fancy title you get when you sign a will).  Assess your situation, and the situation of those the will empowers to act. 

Thanks for reading, and remember a blog is not a lawyer, it does not give legal advice, it simply shares with you my thoughts as an estate planning attorney daily navigating the waters of estate planning and probate.  Please consult with an attorney in your home state (these laws are state SPECIFIC) and for current law.