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This has been puzzling me for a while. What is the best place to keep a last will and testament so that it can easily be found and executed obviously without any help from me?

I've seen a lot of people suggest safety deposit boxes, but I've also seen people say those can't be opened until an executor is named (which is specified in the document itself), so that seems like a bad answer. Also, there are thousands of banks out there. How will anyone ever know which one I picked to store this important document?

I've also heard that giving a copy to my attorney or financial planner is an alternative, but I don't exactly keep either of those on retainer and the same problem exists as the bank. How would anyone find the right one even if they were looking?

As for family members, I don't know if I feel comfortable initiating the conversation of who is getting what prematurely. So giving them copies is undesirable too.

Is there some kind of service or agency where you can file this sort of thing that the courts will know to check as a matter of routine?

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    Can't you just tell your relatives who is an executor and that person would know where your will is? You don't have to tell anyone what's in the will. – Vitalik Apr 25 '11 at 13:38
  • Even if they know, doesn't a court need to officially anoint someone based on the document? Also, how do I know what relatives (if any) will be around at the time? – JohnFx Apr 25 '11 at 14:42
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    Nothing stops you from changing an executor (or a will) as often as you want. I think a court appoints an executor if you don't specify one. – Vitalik Apr 25 '11 at 16:55
  • Just read this article about famous people who left no will. I was surprised to find Howard Hughes on the list (telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/8473578/…) – Muro Apr 26 '11 at 12:46
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In your will you name your executor[s]. When you write your will, talk with your executor ("are you willing to be my executor?"). Tell your executor where to find your will ("My will was done by such-and-such a lawyer, who has a copy"), even if you don't tell them what the contents of the will are. You might also have paper files which you keep at home (e.g. which list your bank accounts, have your tax returns for previous years, records of any real estate you own, etc). One of these files can be labelled (Last Will and Testament) and say where to find it (e.g. at the lawyer's, or at the bank, or wherever it is). Rules and laws about probate courts and advice about how to deal them are locale-specific (you could ask your lawyer about what your executor needs in order to be prepared). My experience is that the lawyer who writes your will will charge a single lump sum for that service, and then keep a copy of it for you (or for your executor) indefinitely after that without being 'on retainer'. The lawyer (or the lawyer's firm, if you outlive your lawyer) might be the executor; or a family member might be the executor, and hire a lawyer. A Texas will that I saw mentioned paying the executor's costs and/or fees from the estate. Also I think that there can be more than one copy of the will.

  • Of course if you trust your executor to not be nosy -- or if you don't care whether they're nosy -- you could just give them a copy and ask them to keep it somewhere safe until it is needed. – keshlam Sep 20 '16 at 2:42
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The laws regarding this vary from state to state, so talk to someone about the particulars.

Basicially, once the bank figures out that you are dead, the safe deposit box is sealed. They read the obituaries and take other measures to find out if you die. So forget about that.

Usually an attorney will keep an executed copy in their office, and not charge you for that privilege. It's sort of a marketing thing -- when your executor shows up to collect the will, they'll need a lawyer for the estate. Being in the lawyers office makes it pretty likely that your lawyer will get the gig.

If you don't use a lawyer, give your executed will to a close friend or family member in a sealed envelope. Ask them to stash it until needed. You can discourage them from opening it with fancy wax seals, etc, or just ask them not to. Just make sure that you take it back in the event that you change or want to invalidate the will later. Another option would be to leave the will prominently next to your important papers, money, etc.

If you don't use a lawyer, make sure that you properly execute (sign and witness) the will. Laws are notoriously obtuse in this area, so understand what you need to do fully. If you have alot of stuff, you don't want the will invalidated and drag your relatives through the expensive and often corrupt court system. Also, don't forget a living will and healthcare proxy.

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    I'm guessing that, just as you can have a bank account with two signatories, so you could have safe deposit box which the executor (by prior arrangement with the bank) is also allowed to open. – ChrisW Apr 26 '11 at 12:41
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    @ChrisW - That depends on the state. In New York, once a bank employee finds out that a holder is dead, they are required to seal the box until they receive an order from the Surrogate's court. Also, the identity of the Executor is determined by statute in the absence of a will. In other words, don't ever put a will in a safe deposit box. – duffbeer703 Apr 27 '11 at 0:47
  • duffbeer703 - What if an account is e.g. a joint bank account, from which both the husband and the wife are allowed to withdraw money? Having a joint bank account is useful: it lets the surviving spouse have spending money (e.g. for household bills) before the estate is settled (which could take weeks if not months or longer). – ChrisW Apr 27 '11 at 1:28
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    @ChrisW: Actual bank accounts are different than deposit boxes. Depending on the state and the account, a joint savings account is often a "Joint Tenant With Rights of Survivorship", which means that if you die, the value of the account is the property of the surviving owner, without a will or probate process. – duffbeer703 Apr 27 '11 at 2:51
  • @ChrisW - bank accounts are different from safe deposit boxes because there's a record of what's in the bank account. The problem with safe deposit boxes is that there's no official record of what's in them; allowing access before an executor has been appointed means the box can be emptied (looted) by the co-holder before the executor (or the state tax officials) gets to inventory the contents. – Pete Becker Sep 19 '16 at 16:14
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I have a little fireproof safe in my home for important documents. Perhaps a safe such as this would be a good spot for a copy of your will. If the executor is a close friend or family member you could possibly give them a key. (Presumably he/she is someone you put a lot of trust in.)

Also, as sensitive as the subject is there are some things that should be discussed with limited friends/family beforehand. For instance, if my wife and I were to die who would take care of our daughter? I can easily put that in my will, but I should discuss it with the potential guardian in advance and make sure they are willing.

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Even if they know, doesn't a court need to officially anoint someone based on the document?

Yes I think so (in Texas). As far as I know someone needs to show up at the probate court with a death certificate and a will, but really I'm not qualified to tell you about the law in Texas, so you should ask someone else.

You could try asking your bank perhaps, whether/how someone else (your executor) could get access to your will without a 'Catch 22' if you were to keep your will in their safe deposit box.

Also, how do I know what relatives (if any) will be around at the time?

You might (subject your lawyer's advice) try to write several scenarios into your will (e.g. "Everything to my wife if she's still alive, else everything to be shared between my surviving children"), but I think it's normal to change/amend/write a new version of your will when people are born, die, marry, divorce, etc.

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