Where is my Loved One's Will?

Guest Column By:

By Barbara E. Little, Esq.
Associate, Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippell LLP

A simple gift you can give to your family is letting them know where to find your original Will. While it is possible to probate a copy, it is much more difficult, expensive and time-consuming. After the end of life celebration, during the initial mourning period, the legal and financial administrative bureaucracy kicks in and knowing where to find the Will allows this process to start with one less headache. For example, in order to have your executor appointed, the original Will must be probated, and thus must be found. 

Sharing the location of your original Will does not mean you must reveal the contents of the Will. While disclosing the content is recommended for numerous reasons, it is not required. What is necessary, however to ensure your wishes are fulfilled, is knowing where your Will can be found. If your loved one failed to disclose its location, below are a few common places to search:

  • Safe deposit box at the bank (bank regulations allow temporary access to a safe deposit box for the sole purpose of removing the Will);
  • Personal safe in the house;
  • File drawers in the house;
  • The “hidden” hole in a desk or chest of drawers;
  • The individual’s attorney (many attorneys, like Obermayer, offer to hold the original will for safe keeping free of charge); and
  • Reach out to the local County Bar Association (in the county of where the individual lived and work) as they can usually do an announcement to their members.

Once the original Will is found, the executor will probate it in the county of domicile (where he/she lived) of the decedent. Thereafter, the administration process begins. Often, to ease the administration burden an executor will hire an estate attorney to guide them through the process. The entire process usually takes 18-24 months and includes tasks such as collecting the decedent’s assets, paying bills, court filings, accounting for the estate assets, filing tax returns and eventually distribution of the remaining asset to the beneficiary.

Of course, this assumes a person properly planned and executed a Will. If not, the person will have died intestate. When an individual dies intestate, state law determines who and in what proportion the estate will be distributed. It may cost the family more in administrative costs as well. For example, often to get appointed as administrator of an estate (an administrator is the term used for the individual appointed to handle an estate not governed by a Will), the individual will need to post a bond. Whereas, in your Will you may state that your executor may serve without a bond. A properly executed Will also provides clear directions as to how and to whom your estate is to be distributed which reduces the potential for conflict during the administration process and the less conflict the less costly the administration. 

Barbara E. Little devotes her practice to all aspects of estate planning, estate and trust administration, estate litigation, business succession planning, nonprofits and family foundations. She practices out of Obermayer’s Philadelphia, PA and Cherry Hill, NJ offices. She can be reached at 215.665.3257 or 856-857-1402 or Barbara.Little@obermayer.com.