Once you have signed your Last Will & Testament (with attesting witnesses), several steps should be taken to keep your Will safe.
First, the original Will should be kept somewhere safe with other legal papers and important things like deeds, vehicle titles, stock certificates and the like. Options include a safe or locked file cabinet at your home, a safety deposit box at your bank, etc. Those who may be in a medical care facility should inquire with their Administrator about the facility’s procedures and capabilities for safekeeping legal papers.
In addition, in Maryland, there is an optional voluntary procedure for filing an original Will with the courts while a person is still living. This is done by placing the original Will in a sealed envelope and filing it with the local county Register of Wills. The cost is a one-time fee of $5.00 and can be done by mail. The original Will can be withdrawn at any time by the maker (and by those who have been given specific authority to withdraw the Will). If a new Will is prepared, then the old Will can be withdrawn and the new Will can be filed with the Register.
In the District of Columbia, there is no such procedure. In D.C., Wills can only be filed after a person’s death.
Safekeeping the original Will is important because, in general, courts will only accept an original Will for post-death probate proceedings. There are some complicated and time-consuming procedures for having a copy of a Will accepted by a court if the original is lost or destroyed. But, it is better to safeguard the original.
Second, it is important to let a few trusted people know the location of your original Will. This might include your spouse, adult children, a trusted friend and/or your attorney.
Third, you should have a few copies of your Will made. Some people find it reasonable to leave copies of their Will with their attorney and with their Personal Representative (often called an Executor). Your Personal Representative/Executor is the person you have chosen to carry out your wishes after death, as expressed in your Will. This person might be a spouse, family member, trusted friend or your attorney. Your Personal Representative/Executor will “wrap up” your affairs by paying bills, disbursing bequests, arranging for the preparation of the final tax returns, etc. It is often useful for that person to have a copy of the Will, but this is not required.
As noted above, generally, only the original Will will be accepted by the courts after death. But, if the original is lost or destroyed, there are procedures for accepting a true and accurate copy. This is another reason for making copies of your Will.
Maryland and D.C. Divorce and Family Law Attorneys
For more information, contact the seasoned and experienced Maryland and D.C. divorce, family law and estate planning attorneys at The Law Offices of Thomas Stahl. We have the experience and expertise you need. Schedule a consultation today or call us at (410) 696-4326 or (202) 964-7280.