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If you've finally got around to making a Last Will & Testament, give yourself a little pat on the back. You now make up just 48% of Australian adults who have made a Will, according to finder.com.au. After your Will has been signed and witnessed, it becomes an important legal document. So you need to decide on where to store your Will.
Don’t underestimate the importance of storing a Will to ensure it’s kept safe and secure.
So, where to store your Will?
Deciding where to store your Will is completely up to the Will-maker (testator). Your Will does not need to be lodged or submitted anywhere. There is no single correct place to store your Will, as everyone’s circumstances are different.
Just keep a copy in a safe and accessible place and give another copy, or the original, to your executor or solicitor. Your executor must be able to easily find the original copy of your Will after your death, so it needs to be stored someplace secure, but accessible to them.
Will storage options
There are a number of ways you can safely store your Will. When considering where to store a Will, most people either keep it in a bank safe deposit box, or someplace safe at home.
You might consider storing your Will in a filing cabinet at home together with other important legal and financial documents, like birth and marriage certificates, so it can easily be found after your death. However, if you are storing your Will at home, it's wise not to keep the original at your home. That's because if the property is destroyed by fire or some other disaster, your Will might never be found.
Storing your Will at your bank, usually in a safe deposit box or envelope, allows you to keep it with any mortgage documents. Your bank will be able to confirm if this service is available to you and if there is a fee.
Usually, the bank will allow you to open a safe deposit box or envelope under both your name and the name of your executor. That will mean your Executor will have authorised access at the time when they need it.
If your box or envelope is in your name only, your Executor can generally gain access to it if they provide written proof that they are the executor named in your Will. In most cases, your executor can do this by presenting a copy of the Will and their own ID to the bank. Just ensure what’s required to access the deposit box upon your death. Problems can arise later if the bank requires a certified copy of the original Will, but the Will is locked in the deposit box!
If it's not possible to store your Will safely with a trusted family member or friend, there's also the option of storing it with a solicitor. Some law firms offer their clients storage facilities to keep their documents safe, often at no additional cost. Consult your solicitor to find out the options for Will storage they offer.
Make copies of your Will
Once your Will has been signed by you and your two witnesses, make one or two copies – you shouldn’t need any more than that. It’s handy to store one copy (but not the original) with your personal documents for reference as you wish. It’s important to note that a PDF version of your Will is not regarded as the original Will.
To learn how to make certified copies of your Will, read our article here.
It’s a good idea to give your executor a copy (plus an extra copy if they need to access to the safe deposit box). That way, they can refer to your funeral wishes if instructions are made in your Will, as funeral arrangements generally need to be made immediately after your death.
If your executor cannot find your Will (or even a copy of it) before the funeral, they may not be able to carry out your wishes as you intended, which may be distressing for your family and friends. It can make your executor’s task much easier if you keep a Funeral Instructions document loosely with your Will, if it’s not covered in detail in the Will itself. Just DO NOT staple or attach the additional pages to your Will in any way.
If your executor’s residence burns down with your original Will destroyed in the fire, writing a new Will is usually the easiest way to replace it.
Final tips on where to store your Will
Choosing where to store your Will is just one part of the process. Whatever you decide as the best Will storage option for your circumstances, ensure your executor or someone you trust knows where it is kept and that they will be able to access it when it is needed.
If your executor lives with you, it’s best to keep the original Will document somewhere else for the reason already mentioned.
If you’re marking ‘copy’ on the copies of your Will, it’s important that you DO NOT mark ‘original’ or similar on your original Will. An original Will needs to have no additional markings, paper clips, or additional stapled pages.
It’s also a good idea to place your Will in an envelope or plastic packet to keep it in pristine condition over the years.
This article is not legal advice. You should speak with your solicitor or accountant for specific advice on your personal or financial situation.