Where Should I Store My Will?

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Posted on: October 20, 2023 | by: Graber & Johnson Law Group, LLC
Aretha Franklin did what she was supposed to in drawing up a last will and testament, but a crucial mistake left her multimillion-dollar estate in chaos.

When you fail to plan for your demise, your heirs may end up fighting. With Aretha Franklin, three of her sons were battling in court over handwritten wills. The Queen of Soul, who died in 2018, had a few wills: one was dated and signed in 2010, which was found in a locked cabinet. Another, signed in 2014, was discovered in a spiral notebook under the cushions of a couch in her suburban Detroit home.

The Herald-Ledger’s recent article, “Aretha Franklin's will was in her couch. Here's where to keep yours,” says that a jury recently decided the couch-kept will is valid. However, Aretha didn’t clarify her final wishes. Her handwritten wills had notations that were hard to decipher, and she didn’t properly store the will she may have wanted to be executed upon her death.

The Herald-Ledger’s article gives some options for storing your will. First, don’t store your will in the couch.

You should keep your will where it is secure but easily located. Here are some options:

  • Safe-deposit box: The downside is that the box might be initially inaccessible when you die. If your will is in the box, that’s an issue. The executor may need a copy of the will to access the box. If so, and a court order is required, it could take some time before the executor can get the will from the safe deposit box. If you do this, include your executor or the person designated to handle your estate on the safe deposit box contract.
  • At home: Keep a copy of your will in a fireproof and waterproof safe, but make sure there’s a duplicate key, or you give the combination code to your executor or some other trusted person.
  • With an attorney: You could have a spare set of original documents and leave one with your attorney. But be sure your family knows the attorney's name with the will.
  • Local court: Check with the local probate court about storing your will and tell someone that you’ve placed your will in the care of the court. For instance, in Maryland, you can keep your original last will and testament with an office called the Register of Wills. The will can then be released only to you or to a person you authorize in writing to retrieve it. Not every state does this; Kansas courts no longer accept wills for storage.
  • Electronic storage: You could store it online to keep your will safe. However, most states don’t yet recognize electronic wills. As a result, you’ll need to have the originally signed copy of your will even if you store a digital copy.

All options to store your will have pros and cons. Whatever you do, tell the person designated to handle your estate where to find your will.

Reference: The Herald-Ledger (July 19, 2023) “Aretha Franklin's will was in her couch. Here's where to keep yours.”

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