Best practices state that you should only have one (1) signed original will. That one original is very important. If it cannot be located after your death, then it can mean that your plans cannot and will not be followed. Since you should only have one original, it is important to think about the question “Where Do You Keep a Will?” and decide on which of the options suggested below will work best for you and your circumstances. 

5 Good Options for Where You Keep a Will

  • Probate Court
  • Safety Deposit Box
  • Your Attorney
  • Will’s Executor
  • Trusted Family Member

Using Your Local Probate Court to Keep Your Will

Georgia Probate Courts permit you to file your original will with your local probate court for a $15.00 fee. If you keep your original will with the probate court in your county, the will is placed in a sealed envelope. It remains confidential and no one will have access to the will, except you, your legal representative, or your attorney. If you decide to store your will at the probate court, you need to be sure to inform someone that you have done so. When someone is believed to have had a will, it is common for friends or family members to search local court files.  However, if you move to another part of the state or the country, heirs may not know to search the probate court where you left your will. 

Considerations If You Store Your Will in a Safety Deposit Box

If you decide to keep the original, you should make sure to keep it in a safe, secure place. It also needs to be somewhere accessible. If you choose to store your will in a safety deposit box, make sure someone other than you knows where to find the key and/or the specific bank branch where the box is located. An heir may be able to get a court order to open a safe deposit box if  the key was lost, but someone will first need to know the specific bank branch. A specific bank might recognize its type of key. However, not knowing the branch location means that, in the majority of cases, the safe deposit box is never located.

Who Should Know Where My Will Is?

If you decide to store your will at the probate court, you need to be sure to inform someone that you have done so. When someone is believed to have had a will, it is common for friends or family members to search local court files, but if you move to another part of the state or the country, it might be that no one searches in the probate court where you left your will if they don’t know to do so. 

It is advisable to tell at least two (2) trusted people where your will is located.  Don’t hide your estate plan from your family.  You’ve made the commitment to write down your PL.A.N. (Protect Loved ones & Assets Now).™ You’ve decided that you want a will-based P.L.A.N.™ or a trust-based P.L.A.N.™ You’ve hired an attorney. You’ve planned it out. You’ve signed all of the documents. You’re feeling pretty good that you’ve decided what is best for you and for those you leave behind, and that your decisions are clearly communicated. What happens if no one can find your P.L.A.N.™ after you pass away? If your friends or loved ones cannot find your P.L.A.N.,™ no one is going to be able to make sure that it’s followed.

Case In Point: Florence Griffith Joyner (“FloJo”) died in 1998. Everyone thought that she had a will. No one could find it. There were years of legal battles as a result over what happened to FloJo’s estate and, most specifically, her condominium. Her husband and mother fought over whether FloJo had intended for her mother to live in the condominium for the remainder of her life. 

Does My Attorney Have a Copy of My Will?

Most lawyers keep copies of the estate plans that they draft. You should make sure that your lawyer keeps a copy of your estate plan in their files and familiarize yourself with the firm’s document retention and storage policy (which is often outlined in both your engagement letter or fee agreement and/or any closing letter you received upon completion of planning). Stone & Sullivan, LLC keeps a copy of every estate plan drafted for its clients as a matter of firm policy and practice. 

Consider Giving a Copy of Your Will to Your Executor or a Trusted Family Member

Most people don’t want to talk about death or dying. It can be difficult to talk about these things with your friends or family members. Sometimes people have difficulty talking about their material possessions or the gifts they are giving to friends or family members; especially when there are conspicuous absences or disproportionate gifts. But having that difficult or awkward conversation about your estate plan can help ensure that all of the time and effort you put into developing your P.L.A.N.™ means that it’s more likely it will be implemented as you intended. 

What to Do if the Original Copy of the Will Can Not Be Located

If you give a copy to someone and the original can’t be located, the copy can be submitted to the probate court under Georgia law after following certain procedures. Submitting a copy is better than having nothing to submit. Not being able to file a copy (with affidavit) or an original will with the court means that your estate becomes subject to the laws of intestacy. The laws of the State of Georgia will decide your heirs and the amounts and proportions in which they are going to inherit from your estate, not your P.L.A.N.™ (see our article “What Happens if I Die Without a Will in Georgia?“).

Have a P.L.A.N.™ and Be Sure it Can Be Found

You owe it to yourself and your loved ones to create a PL.A.N. (Protect Loved ones & Assets Now).™ A P.L.A.N.™ provides purpose, direction, and control. Once you have your P.L.A.N.™ in place, you should make sure that you do everything you can to ensure that it’s ready when you need it most — when it’s time to put into action either due to death or incapacity. 

At Stone & Sullivan, LLC, we look forward to working with you to create a P.L.A.N.™ that reflects your instructions, goals, and expectations for your things. Call or email us to get started on putting your P.L.A.N.™ together today.

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