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What to do with the Original of a Will

I am often asked what a person should do with the original Will once it is signed. There is no right or wrong answer, but doing some things are better than others. The options should be considered in light of the family and personal dynamics and particular circumstances.

To begin with, I do not usually recommend that the Will be given to anyone other than the person who created it unless it is the attorney who drafted it. If the attorney has a Will safe and will keep it for no charge, that is good temporary or permanent option.

I once received a phone call from a daughter of a man who did a Will with us about 20 years ago. Her mother died, and her father had gotten remarried and moved to North Carolina. After his death, the new wife said there was no Will. It happened to be in our Will safe where he left it 20 years ago, and we were able to give it to his daughter who was the named executor of the Will.

I also recommend no more than one signed original. The more originals there are (or copies for that matter), the more difficult it is to track them down and destroy them when a new Will is done. More than one version of a signed Will is a recipe for trouble. If the old ones are not destroyed and are still “out there” to be found, people who liked the old Will better may be tempted to challenge the new one.

The original should be kept in a safe place. A lock box or a safe at home is a good location. Something that is water proof and fire proof is best. Some people have a safe deposit box at a bank. That is another option (though it can be problematic after death for someone to gain access unless another name is on the safe deposit box).

At least one copy of the signed Will should be made, and the copy (or copies) should be kept separate from the original. Copies should be clearly marked “copy”. Someone needs to be able to find the original Will, therefore I recomment that a handwritten statement be made on the copy to indicate where the original is located. If someone finds hte copy, they will know where the original is located. The attorney who drafted the Will should also keep a copy as a back up. It also is good thing to keep the card of the attorney who did the Will with the copies of the Will.

Originals or copies should only be given to people you implicitly trust. People can be weird if they know they are inheriting something (or not inheriting something; so be careful about telling people what you have done and even more careful about entrusting a copy with someone. I have seen some difficult family situations arise when children or others are told what is being done, especially if the distribution is not equal between siblings. If you are going to say anything to anyone, it is usually best to let them know you have done a Will and, perhaps, where the original Will is located, and leave it at that.

The most important thing is to consider your circumstances, your resources and your family dynamics. Make decisions that make sense. Sometimes it makes sense to give someone else a copy or to tell someone what is in the Will. I suggest that most of the time it makes more sense not to do that. Wherever the original is kept, the goal is for it to be found by the people you want to find it. Copies should point to the location of the original. Make sure it is in a safe place or with people you trust.

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