Christopher McNeill says storing the will at home is not always the safest option
All the time and effort of having your Will prepared will be wasted if nobody knows where to find it – or even that it exists. Failure to consider this can cause a great deal of distress to friends and family, not to mention the possibility of a costly dispute.
Telling your executors
Even if you don’t let your executors see a copy, you should at least tell them that your Will is made, appointing them as executors. You should also let them know where your Will is stored. Many firms and companies have a strict compliance procedure for documents held, more so owing to the recent changes in privacy and data policies, and your executors will also need to know how they can retrieve the Will.
You may also have a pre-paid funeral plan and a letter of wishes for your personal chattels. Again, if nobody knows your funeral and other wishes it is unlikely that they will be followed.
For most people a Will is a private and confidential document. Perhaps naturally, their first thought is to keep it at home, especially if they have made the Will without professional assistance. Some put this in a home safe and others keep it bundled with their important papers. This may seem the easiest and most cost effective option but there are risks.
Apart from the danger that the executors or family members simply fail to locate the Will among your personal items, your Will could be damaged, inadvertently destroyed, lost or even stolen. The real danger is that, if the Will cannot be found – for whatever reason – the law will presume this is because you destroyed it yourself with the intention of revoking it. It will then make no difference if your solicitors or your executors do have a copy because that copy will have no value – it will simply be a copy of a Will that you destroyed because it no longer represented your wishes.
With one of the executors
An executor, or close family member, may be willing to hold the Will, as long as they have somewhere secure to store it. This offers no guarantee that they will be able to continue to do so but at least it avoids the danger that if the Will cannot be found it is presumed to have been destroyed. Only the person who has made a will can revoke it because a will is not simply a piece of paper, it is an act in law. In fact, even if an executor or family member did physically destroy the Will, it could still be proved as contained in a copy.
It is still possible to deposit your Will with the Probate Service (England and Wales).
For a small, single fee of £20.00, your Will can be stored at the Principal Probate Registry in London. The process of placing your Will with their storage facility for safekeeping is simple and reliable, even if you live outside of London. You can find further information on how to do this here.
Some banks still offer a Will storage service, although this has become far less common, and the compliance and cost requirements are unlikely to make this an attractive option. You should make sure you know the bank’s compliance procedures for giving access to your Will, both for yourself and your executors.
Be cautious of storing in a safety deposit box because such boxes are not accessible to an executor until probate has been granted. Bank staff don’t always understand they cannot insist on seeing a grant of probate of a Will which they still hold! Your executors may have to make special arrangements to obtain the Will, leaving the rest of the box’s contents in the Bank’s custody until probate is granted.
More generally, there is no point in storing your Will in any type of safe or locked location where your executors are unable to retrieve it when the time comes; the whole point of making a Will is that after your death your executors can implement your wishes without delay.
Storing your Will with a firm of solicitors is the safest and most viable option for most people. The solicitor who has prepared your Will will nearly always offer a free of charge storage service for the original Will, if not for any other type of document. Some firms offer to store your Will even if you have not made it with them, although they may make a charge for this.
Unlike a will held by the testator, a will in the hands of solicitors is not presumed to have been destroyed just because it cannot be found. Even if your solicitor does mislay or even destroy the Will, therefore , it is actually still safer than if the original had been held at home. Solicitors are used to compliance procedures and the handling of original wills; no documents are ever clipped, stapled or fastened to a will and the Will or a copy is never released to anyone who has no authority to see it or request a copy.