Where Should I Store My Will?
First, a fun fact: You shouldn’t store your Will in a safe deposit box.
We know, there’s a ton of advice out there saying it’s okay to store your Will in a safe deposit box. But here’s the thing: Your executor needs authorization to get into that safe deposit box, and oftentimes that authorization is your Will.
So if not at your bank, where’s the best place to store your Will?
Do I even need a physical copy of my Will?
If you’re under a certain age or just live much of your life online, you may not love the idea of dealing with physical copies of, well, anything.
But we have some news for you: You can’t store your original Will online. A Will still needs a physical signature, meaning your executor will need a physical copy of your Will to carry out your wishes and distribute your assets to beneficiaries.
Now that you know you need a physical copy of your Last Will and Testament, you may be wondering where to store it. Some places are better than others, but above all, your executor must know where to find the original copy of your Will when the time comes.
Keep reading to find out more about where to keep your Will, and other documents you’ll want to make sure your executor knows and has access to for a smooth process when they’re wrapping up your estate.
The best place for your Last Will and Testament: What to consider
Some people think hiding their Will is a smart move. After all, it’s a private document that very few people should have access to.
But if you hide your Will so well that no one can find it, you’ll make your executor’s life quite difficult after you die. You might be tempted to hide your Will someplace odd, like inside your freezer or under your mattress. The trouble with hiding your Will is that when you are gone, it is pretty important that your loved ones can find it.
Always make sure to tell your executor where you’ve stored your Will — and don’t forget to keep them updated if that location changes.
Far too often, people will tell their executor where they’ve hidden their Will … then forget to update them on any new hiding spots. When this happens, the executor will need to spend extra time trying to find the Will so they can carry out their first duties, which causes unnecessary stress and delay––all while grieving a death.
You’d also be surprised how many people store their Will on a bottom shelf or drawer, then lose their Will to flooding. With only one original copy of your Will, if this gets lost or can’t be found, it will be as though you never made a Will at all.
When choosing a place to store your Will, always make sure it’s:
Safe from damage
Accessible to your executor
Known to several people you trust
Safe place #1: A safe in your home
Many people keep a physical copy of their Will in their own home or office in a filing cabinet. If you choose this route, it’s best to keep your documents in a waterproof and fireproof safe.
You’ll need to make sure your executor and a couple other people you trust have access to the combination of the safe. This is a risk––if your executor loses the combination, they won’t be able to access your Will and it will cause a lot of delay in distributing assets to beneficiaries.
You can always keep your Will in your home without a safe, but you’ll have to replace the Will in the event of a fire, flood, or other natural disaster.
Safe place #2: Lawyer’s office or trust company
A great place to keep a physical copy of your Will is with your lawyer at their law firm or with a living trust company you’ve hired to handle your estate, especially if they are already in possession of other important documents for you.
Your common estate planning law firm has large vaults where they keep their clients’ original Wills for safekeeping. If you go this route, make sure that your family members and loved ones know exactly who has your Will. You shouldn’t just assume they know.
When you die, your executor will visit your lawyer’s office (with appropriate documentation and proof of who they are) to gain access to the Will.
Where you should NOT store your Will: The safe deposit box
Many people assume the safest place to store their Will is in a safety deposit box.
Despite having the word “safe” right there in its name, storing an original copy of your Will in a safe deposit box might cause more harm than good. After someone dies, the bank seals your safe deposit box and only an executor with proof of authorization can access it.
This could delay the execution of your wishes and potentially cost a lot of money in legal fees, as your executor may need a court order to access your Will.
You can consider storing a copy of your Will in a safety deposit box; however, the original should always be kept with your lawyer or somewhere safe that’s easily accessible for your executor when the time comes.
Can I register my Will’s location in a centralized database?
You may be wondering if there’s an official registry that can keep a record of where you’ve stored your Will.
In Canada, two provinces have a provincial Will registry: British Columbia and Quebec.
You can register your Will in British Columbia with the Department of Vital Statistics for a small fee. When you use this service, you’re only registering the location of your Will, not the Will itself. This means you only need to update the registry if the location of your Will changes, not the actual contents of the Will. When you die, a search of the registry will be performed as part of probate court.
Quebec’s extensive use of the notary system for their legal Will process includes location registry. Any Will prepared by a notary must be registered by law, which allows it to bypass probate court.
In Canada, you can also register your Will the Canada Will Registry, which is a private registry run by our friends at NoticeConnect. The cost to register a Will is $40 (included at no additional charge when you use Epilogue). When you die, your executor or someone else with your death certificate can pay a fee and search the registry to find your Will.
What to keep with your Will
When you choose a place to store your Will, you’ll want to keep it with other important estate planning documents. This will make it easier for your executor to carry out their first duties once they get their hands on your Will.
Here are some other documents you should keep in the same place as your Will:
Incapacity planning documents (like a Power of Attorney)
Details about your funeral wishes
Living trust documents, if they apply
Instructions about what to do with your social media and other digital accounts
What happens if no one can find my Will?
If no one can find your Will after an extensive search, it’s as if you’ve died without one—called “dying intestate.”
That means that any of the wishes you expressed in your Will become unknown to your loved ones. That applies to your choice of executor and guardians, and any decisions you made about the distribution of your assets. Without a Will, your money, property and other assets get distributed based on the laws in your province.