Updated: Aug 13, 2020
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
Safety Deposit Box
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). The Sullivan Law Firm keeps a copy of every estate plan drafted for its clients as a matter of firm policy and practice.