It happens all the time, right after the funeral (and sadly sometimes even before the death), someone in the family is looking for the Will. However, by the time someone wants to know where the Will is, its author is often times, incapacitated and/or in no position to provide instructions as to its location. Of course, location of the Will is necessary to determine the exact wishes of the decedent and most times, to stop the inevitable fighting over the distribution of those precious remaining family assets.
So begins the hunt. A diligent search for the Will is made among the personal belongings of the decedent. A search in the bedroom dresser, a nightstand, a shoebox in the closet, under the bed, in the family desk, somewhere in a kitchen junk drawer, stuck between the pages of the family bible or photo album and maybe, just maybe it’s in grandma or granddad’s “strong box”. Any and everywhere that can be searched, is searched and still, no Will.
Then someone remembers the safe deposit box. However, access to a safe deposit box, owned solely by the decedent, can only be obtained after a personal representative is appointed, AFTER the Estate is opened. With this thought, a family member goes to the courthouse to open an Estate. Once the death certificate is presented to the deputy, he or she looks up the decedent’s name in the court computer, excuses him or herself from the desk and returns with…….The Will!
How did the Will end up at the courthouse? It’s because the decedent had the good mind to file the Will with the Register of Wills division of the county courthouse, for safekeeping. In Prince George’s County, Maryland, the Register of Wills will hold and safe keep your will for a one-time charge of $5.00. That’s right! For $5.00, your will is kept in a central location, free from fire, flood, other natural disaster, theft, vandalism, tampering, manipulation, forgery, and the like. So, if you’re a family member looking for a Will and have not yet opened the Estate, make an appointment with the Register of Wills, and see if it’s there waiting to be found.
If you have yet to meet your ultimate demise, have a Will and need more reason to consider this form of filing and safekeeping, consider the following benefits:
- Security: No fear of a lost, stolen or tampered Will.
- Stability: The Will remains in a central location no matter how many times you change residences.
- Transparency: The Will is opened by an independent and impartial court deputy.
- Accessibility: The Will is immediately accessible upon presentation of the death certificate. And most of all…..
- Privacy and Family Accord: No one need know what’s in the Will until you’re gone!
What a bargain! For those outside of Prince George’s County, Maryland, call your local courthouse to find out if and where Wills are possibly kept. If you’re still not convinced, that it’s a good idea to safeguard a Will at the Register’s office, and choose to keep your own Will, keep these things in mind:
- Sign your Will in Blue ink. This will help to identify originals from copies.
- Initial the corner of each page of the Will (and any changes) to avoid any possible unwanted replacement of pages or other information.
- Once the Will is completed and stapled, DO NOT remove the staple. Removal of the staple may be a later sign that the Will was tampered with.
- Give a copy of your Will to a trusted family member or friend.
- If you choose not to give a copy to someone else, at least tell someone (and a back-up “someone”) where the Will is.
- Keep your Will in a fire and waterproof place.
- In case of sheer natural disaster, keep at least one copy, of your Will, in a different location from the original.
- If you had one, make sure your attorney keeps a copy of your Will (and make sure that someone knows who your attorney is).
- If immediate location of your Will is required for funeral or burial arrangement information, DO NOT place the Will in a safe deposit box, as court intervention will be necessary to obtain access. (jurisdictions differ).
Thanks for reading. Please note that I am licensed to practice law in Maryland and the District of Columbia. Please feel free to learn more about my practice at www.kelseylaw.net and to seek legal advice when you feel it necessary.
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