After We Sign the Will, Where Should We Keep It?

One question I hear from clients all the time: After we sign the Will , where should we keep it?

Before we answer that question, let’s ask another, related question: What if your loved ones can’t find your Will?

Consider the matter of famed Olympic runner, Florence Griffith-Joyner , the fastest woman in history. In 1998, at the age of 38, Ms. Joyner passed away in her sleep when she suffocated after an epileptic seizure .

After her death, her grief-stricken husband, Al Joyner was unable to find the original Will executed by his wife. By California law, Mr. Joyner was required to file the original document within 30 days of her death. Because he could not find it—he could not file it.

As a result, Mr. Joyner and the mother of Ms. Joyner engaged in estate litigation for four years following her death.

Even if you take the time and effort to create estate planning documents—if the documents cannot be found and filed, you are considered to have died intestate . This means your assets are divided according to state probate law—even if your family members know you put your wishes on paper.

What if you only have copies of your Will? In New Jersey, you can only probate an original version of your Will. If you only have copies, you’ll have to file a motion with the Court, which can often be costly and extremely time-consuming.

Back to our first question, where should you store your Will? Consider these suggestions for preserving your documents—in order to preserve your wishes:

  • There is no legal requirement to store your Will and estate planning documents in any particular place. You can store your executed Will at home, at your office, or with business associates.
  • Safety is an important factor. In New Jersey, flood and storms destroyed critically important documents stored by families in homes and offices in recent years.
  • Many people store important documents, like a Will, in their safety deposit box . This is ONLY a good location if the box is held jointly, with a spouse or loved one. In the event of your death, a person co-named on your box may remove the documents. Otherwise, your family may face a wait to have the box opened after your death. As a general rule, we don’t recommend using safety deposit boxes.
  • We recommend that original copies of our clients’ Wills be held in our fire-proof safe. If our building burns down, your Will is still safe. Also, if you have to make changes to the documents in the event of a birth, or divorce, we can quickly create new documents for your signature.
  • Regardless of where you store your Will, tell loved ones where you placed it. Give a copy to your executor and leave written instructions indicating where the original can be located.