For Clients, Community, Professional Advisors.
At least once per year (and sometimes more often) we receive a phone call
from the children of one of our clients. It sounds like this: “Dad
died yesterday. We’re trying to find the original of his will (and/or
trust). Does your office have it? Might you know where it is?”
In a recent case, three different
copies of a will showed up and were filed in court. The judge refused to admit
any of them to probate because it appeared all were copies. This will
cause major difficulties in the settlement of the estate.
So, “Do you know where the original of YOUR will or your trust is?”
More importantly, does your executor (or your trustee) know where to find it?
It’s true that many law firms have a vault that is filled with original
wills of their clients over decades and decades. They want the appointed
executor or trustee or the family to call them when the time comes to
settle the estate. It’s good business for many law firms. That works
for many firms and many clients. We’ve gone a different direction.
We’ve taken the approach that, if we maintain a good relationship
with our clients and their families, they will want to come to us. So,
as a matter of practice, we don’t have a “will vault”.
We are very specific on how we instruct our clients.
We take time to prepare our clients’ original estate planning documents
on high quality paper and bind them together in a complete package. At
our final meeting when a plan is created or amended and restated, I am
very specific. I ask each client where it is they intend to store the
originals of the documents. My file contains an annotation on what they
tell me. I recommend that they keep the originals in a fire-proof safe
box either in their home or in a safe deposit box at a bank (titled in
a way that the appropriate persons will have access at the right time).
We try to keep a record of where the originals are located so that when
that phone call comes, we can say, “Look in the fireproof box in
the closet”. We review the status and placement of the documents
at each client’s annual review.
It’s equally important, however, that the appropriate people (executor,
trustee and sometimes the heirs) know where to find the documents. That’s
why we often have a short “family meeting” when a family estate
plan is completed. In this meeting, I will briefly review the highlights
of the plan (using a color diagram) and then talk about roles. These meetings
rarely take more than 30 minutes.
Our job is to ensure that not only that the plan is accomplished, but that
it works when it is needed.
Do you know where the original of YOUR will is?