Where Is the Original of Your Will?

Posted By Jay Kaufman || 14-Sep-2011

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?

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Northbrook Estate Planning Lawyers

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Kaufman Law Group, LLC
Northbrook Estate Planning Lawyers
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