In Pennsylvania, if the testator’s original will cannot be found, there is a presumption that the original will was destroyed by the testator with the intention to revoke it. Overcoming this presumption is not impossible, but by design it is an uphill battle, so the original will is, for this reason, an important document.
With that in mind, where does one put their will? This is a question clients often ask, and reasonably so. There are a few options and none are perfect for everyone.
Option One: Keep the will at home, with you
This is the most convenient option, but only recommended for the settled, well-organized individual, preferably with a fireproof safe.
- Easily found when edits are necessary
- Not subject to the changing location or career decisions of your attorney
- Not locked in a bank vault your named executor doesn’t have access to
- Easily lost
- Easily misplaced
- Can be destroyed by fire, flood, etc.
Remember, if you executor can’t find your will, it will be presumed revoked and a difficult and expensive process will likely ensue in order for a copy to be admitted to probate. Make sure your executor knows where you’re keeping it.
Option Two: Keep it with your attorney
This is a safe option, if your attorney has a fireproof safe in which to keep it, and you trust your attorney and had a good experience during the drafting process.
- Relatively safe
- Won’t be lost (at least not by you)
- May be difficult to locate if your attorney changes office locations, contact information, or retires
- Inconvenient when changes are necessary (this could be argued, but if you want to use a new attorney to modify your will, you’d have to request your old one back from your former attorney…awkward!)
Option Three: Safe deposit box
This is the most commonly thought-of place to keep your will, but remember that it can be a challenge for your executor to get access to the safe deposit box. There are laws in PA which allow an executor to do so, but it can be difficult nonetheless and banks often resist if the person seeking access does not have explicit access rights.
- Safest option
- Relatively convenient when changes are necessary
- Can be difficult for your executor to gain access, if they do not have access privileges or are not a surviving spouse
Many lawyers flatly tell their clients not to put their will in safe deposit box. I don’t go this far, but I do make clients aware of these pros and cons.
The Wildcard Option: Duplicate Originals
You could sign and execute duplicate original wills, and put them multiple places. Although many attorneys do this regularly, I personally don’t recommend it to clients. If you decide to destroy your will because you want it revoked, then your intention would be entirely contravened by the existence of a second (or third!) duplicate original which could be validly probated. Execute one will and keep it in a safe place, keeping in mind the above advantages and limitations.
If you have any questions about wills, estate plans or where to keep them, please don’t hesitate to reach out!