Your last will and testament indicates how you want the assets in your estate distributed following your passing. It should include important details such as your beneficiaries, the assets you want to pass on, and the person who will execute your wishes, also known as the executor. For example, if you want to donate money or property to charitable organizations, doing so posthumously is possible through a will.
Putting together a will is an essential part of estate planning. However, you should also devise a plan for keeping it safe. A big part of that involves entrusting it to the right people.
Learn more about will preservation by continuing with the rest of this article.
What Happens if Your Will Is Lost?
Before we get into the topic of who should hang on to your will, let’s first discuss why keeping it is so important in the first place. You may be unaware of the potential trouble a lost will could cause for your heirs. Those potential problems are detailed below.
Your Wishes Are Not Followed
First, the absence of a will means that people will likely not follow your wishes for your estate. For example, if you planned to leave money behind for some of your relatives who are not in your immediate family, they might not receive anything. Your plan to donate a portion of your estate to your favorite charity will also become derailed because there are no instructions provided to do so.
Your Estate Will Be Treated as Intestate
The state of New York considers an estate intestate if you cannot produce the original following the decedent’s passing. Even if potential heirs and lawyers claim that the decedent had a will, the state will presume that the decedent intended to destroy or revoke it.
Potential beneficiaries can petition the court and provide evidence of the original will’s existence, but that may be for naught. The Surrogate’s Court sets a high burden of proof for these cases, so getting a favorable ruling will be an enormous challenge for petitioners.
Because the Surrogate’s Court sees the estate as intestate without the original will, New York State’s intestate succession laws will take effect when the assets become distributed. Intestate succession laws will dictate which family members will benefit from your estate. Certain relatives will inherit your assets regardless of how well you got along with them.
There is also the possibility that your assets could become New York State’s property if the courts cannot find any eligible heirs.
Keeping your will safe is important if you want the assets in your estate to go to the people you care about the most. Take the extra steps necessary to protect your will and prevent New York State from dictating the distribution of your estate.
Your Beneficiaries Will Need to Wait a Long Time to Receive Assets from Your Estate
Even when you find your original will, your beneficiaries may still encounter challenges because of the initial chaos caused by its misplacement. As the entry above notes, New York State can be strict regarding wills. As a result, the court may take its time deciding if the newly found will is legitimate. That may force your beneficiaries to endure an extended wait.
Your heirs may be unable to endure that type of wait. They may be dependent on your estate for education and living expenses. Avoid subjecting your loved ones to that ordeal by keeping your will safe.
Who Should Keep the Original Copy of Your Will?
Now that we better understand the importance of preserving the original copy of a will, let’s discuss who should keep it. You have a few options to consider here. Learn more about your available options so you can identify the best one for your specific situation.
Hang on to Your Will
Your first option for will preservation is simply hanging on to it yourself. If you have a safe at home, you can use that to store your will.
The advantage to storing the will yourself is accessibility. It is convenient to have your will within arm’s reach most of the time. In addition, if you ever want to review your will, you can pull it out of the safe and read it again.
When you pass away, your loved ones can also find your will easily. They will not need to contact anyone else to obtain that important document.
There are also downsides to keeping your will. For instance, you may misplace your will and not realize it. You have told your executor that your will is in a file cabinet, but you may have moved its location previously. If the fact that your will is misplaced only comes to light after you pass away, that could spell trouble for your beneficiaries.
Ask Your Executor to Keep Your Will
Another option to consider involves leaving your will in the care of your executor. The person you name as the executor of your will is legally bound to act in the best interests of your estate. You are only giving that role to someone you trust completely, so entrusting them with your will makes sense.
Still, there is no guarantee that your executor will handle your will correctly. They may store it in a file cabinet at home and keep it there until it is needed. If something happens to your will while it is in their possession, that could complicate matters.
File Your Will with the Surrogate’s Court
The state of New York can help you if you are trying to keep your will safe. The Surrogate’s Court has a vault where wills are kept. The wills are stored there until their respective testators pass away.
Filing your will with the Surrogate’s Court in your county makes sense because you can count on them to keep it safe. When the time comes for your will to pass through probate, the process may be faster because your will was already in the court’s possession.
Of course, storing your will this way can make it less accessible. In addition, reviewing and changing your will may take longer because you must retrieve it from the Surrogate’s Court first.
Store Your Will in a Bank’s Safe Deposit Box
Banks are institutions that can help with will preservation. For example, you can rent a safe deposit box at your local bank and place your will in there.
A bank’s safe deposit box can arguably be a good place to keep a will because of its security. Security guards continuously monitor the bank’s safe deposit boxes. The safe deposit boxes can also withstand natural calamities.
The main drawback to storing your will in a bank’s safe deposit box is potentially losing access to it. For example, the bank could close, and you could lose the contents of your safe deposit box in the empty establishment. If that happens, there may be no way for your executor to retrieve your original will.
You should also consider naming a joint owner of the safe deposit box so they can access it and your will when you pass away. Otherwise, your executor may not be able to access your will quickly. They may need to secure a court order to gain that access.
Entrust Your Will to Your Attorney
Last but not least, you can entrust your will to your estate planning attorney. One can even argue that asking your attorney to keep your will is the best option available.
Why is leaving your will with your attorney a good idea?
For starters, attorneys already have plenty of experience when it comes to keeping important documents safe. Your attorney probably has a safe in their office to store your will.
Asking your attorney to keep your will also does not affect accessibility. You will probably want to run things by your attorney before you make any changes to your will. If anything, asking your attorney to hold on to your will may allow you to kill two birds with one stone.
Enlisting the help of your attorney to store your will is also worth considering because it is a potential long-term solution. Some attorneys will hang on to their clients’ important documents indefinitely. So you can entrust your will to your attorney and know it will be safe for a long time.
What Steps Do You Need to Take After Storing Your Will?
After weighing your options, you have finally decided to store your will. You went through with your plans to store your will, and it is already in a safe place.
It is good that your will is now safe, but you cannot stop at only storing it. Remember that New York State could treat your estate as intestate if you cannot find the original. Knowing that, you must take proper precautions to guarantee that your executor and your beneficiaries will have access to it.
Start by telling a few trusted people the whereabouts of your will. Depending on how you stored your will, this may already be something you had to do. People you should inform include the executor of your estate and your attorney. If you want to tell your close relatives as well, there is nothing wrong with that.
Avoid letting people you do not trust in on the secret because you cannot be certain about what they might do. For example, they could try to find some way to access your will and destroy it to force intestacy. They may do that to receive a cut from your estate you do not want them to have.
Remember to name a joint owner if you are storing your will in a safe deposit box.
Can You Keep Your Will in Your Computer or Cloud Storage?
Everything is digital nowadays. You might be wondering if making your will digital is a viable option.
On the one hand, using your computer to store your will seems like a good idea. As long as you take good care of your computer, your files should be safe there. On the other hand, anyone planning to mess with your will may struggle to break through the security features you have in place.
The cloud serves as an even more secure storage unit for important documents. Companies that offer cloud storage boast about top-notch security all the time. As a result, they should be more than capable of hanging on to your will.
On the other hand, there is one big drawback you cannot ignore. Most courts do not accept digital wills. Their attitude regarding that matter may change in the future, but you cannot bank on it.
You can keep a digital copy of your will if you want. However, storing the original, physical version of your will somewhere is still a must.
Can You Obtain a Will Filed in Probate Court if You Are Not the Executor?
Before your loved one passed away, they told you their will was with the Surrogate’s Court in their county. Ever since their passing, you have been waiting on the executor to put the will through probate, but nothing has happened thus far.
What are your options in that scenario?
You can reach out to the executor and ask them to put the will through probate. This should be possible if you are the beneficiary of the will.
Since they must act in the best interest of the estate, they should have filed probate already. You can ask them why they have not gotten to that yet.
If the executor is not cooperating for some reason, you can go to the court directly. The court can then force the executor to fulfill their legal obligations.
After completing your will, you should keep it as safe as possible. We at the Alber Law Group can help with that. Contact us today, and we will keep your will safe and easily accessible at all times.