Safeguarding your will: storage precautions

How to ensure that the people you leave behind aren’t left guessing. By Gillian Wilson, of Brodies.

Why is sensible will storage important?last will and testament

A person’s death can be a difficult and upsetting time for their family. With so many arrangements to make and estate-related issues to sort out, it can feel overwhelming.

One of the first things that a solicitor will ask when advising on the administration of a deceased person’s estate is whether they have a will or not. Of course, the best answer to that question is the affirmative, but what if the answer is, “I don’t know, they never mentioned a will,” or “I’m sure they said something about a will, but I have no idea where it could be”?

As you can imagine, these are the types of answers that can bring delay and difficulties to the administration of a deceased’s person’s estate, and additional stress to their family.

It is therefore imperative that if you have a will, you store it in a safe place, where others can find it. If something happens to your will and it's destroyed, lost or stolen, it may cause serious problems to the administration of your estate. Similarly, there is not much use in putting a will in place if your loved ones can’t find it, or don’t even know that it exists.  

Three storage options

1 Keeping your will at home

Perhaps the most obvious to some would be to keep your will at home. Many of us have an ‘important documents’ folder or a drawer where we file things away. However, many of us are guilty of mislaying or forgetting about these documents over the years, and there’s a risk that if you keep your will at home, this is exactly what will happen.

Some people have meticulous storage systems in place and are perhaps less likely to lose their will. However, even if you are careful about where you put your will, there is no guarantee that it will be protected against damage by fire, theft, flood or other damage, if you keep it at home. 

You may be tempted to keep your will in a lockable safe at home. However, if you decide to do this, you should bear in mind who has access to that safe. While you won’t want other people to know the access code to your safe, there is no use putting your will in a safe that only you are able to access.

2 Storing your will with a bank

Some banks offer a will storage service. While this is perhaps a safer option than storing your will at home, some banks will charge for this. It may also be difficult for the people who you appoint to have responsibility for administering your estate (executors) to retrieve the will from the bank, unless you give them specific instruction of which bank it is held with, or which account it is connected to.

3 Storing your will with a solicitor

The best option is for you to store your will with a solicitor. Most law firms have special storage facilities for legal documents such as wills. This ensures that they are kept safe and are protected from damage.

Your will can be kept safe with any other important legal documents, such as the title deeds to your house. This means that everything is kept safe in one place, making it easier for your loved ones.

Communication is key

Wherever you decide to store your will, you must communicate its location to the people who you appoint as executors. It will be a lot easier for them to start dealing with your estate if they know exactly where your will is.

You may also find it appropriate to mention to other family members where your will is, just in case your executors are, for some reason, unable to act. If nobody knows about your will, it could be administered as if you had never put one in place (dying intestate). Therefore, communication is really important.

Keeping a copy: out of sight, out of mind

It’s good practice to keep a copy of your will at home. This means that you can easily review it and make sure that it still reflects your wishes. You should regard your will as a fluid document, which can be amended over the years to reflect any changes in your personal or financial circumstances

If you don’t keep a copy of your will at home, you run the risk of forgetting about it. A will that you drafted several years prior to your death may no longer accurately reflect your wishes.

In summary, if you have gone to the effort of putting a will in place to ensure that your assets are passed on to those you love, you should then:

  • store your will with a solicitor
  • tell your executors and family members where your will is being stored
  • keep a copy at home, so you can easily review it at any time

About the author

Gillian Wilson advises on all aspects of personal law, including estate planning, preparation of wills, trust and executry administration and incapacity related issues at Brodies@BrodiesLLP.

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