While it’s not unheard of for an original Last Will and Testament to be misplaced, the situation can have serious consequences. And, as this article illustrates, it can happen to anyone!
Each county in the state of Maryland has a Register of Wills—an elected official who is responsible in that county for overseeing the administration of estates during probate, and providing safekeeping for the Last Will and Testament of living persons.
Belinda Conaway was elected the Register of Wills for Baltimore City in December 2014. After her father died, the family was unable to locate his original last will and testament, however they did find a copy of a will he signed in 1999 which left his estate to his children Belinda and Frank. In March 2015, Belinda filed a petition requesting that the copy of the will be admitted to probate, stating in her petition, “This copy was found among the personal papers and I have not been able to locate the original.”
Having Your Original Last Will is Important
Ironic, isn’t it? Fortunately in this case, Mr. Conaway’s children agreed that the 1999 Will was in fact their father’s last Will, and the probate judge admitted the copy to probate. This is not always the case. Some courts won’t admit a copy of a Will unless it’s a copy that was kept by the attorney. Sometimes, when there is disagreement over whether a copy is actually the last Will, the copy may be overlooked in favor of an older original Will, or the court may simply ignore the will and apply the state’s intestacy statutes (state laws that determine the heirs when there is no valid Will).
That’s why it’s important for your family to be able to find your most recent original Will. Without it, the laws of your state may presume that you intended to destroy it, and a copy will be viewed as worthless. At that point, the estate may be dealt as if there were no will, and in accordance with the intestacy laws of the state.
Make Sure People Know Where to Find Your Original Will
You can avoid the problems caused by a missing Will by ensuring that your family or a close friend knows where your original Will is located. While they don’t need to know what it says, someone you trust needs to know where your original Will is stored.
If you’re uncomfortable letting family members know where to find your Will, let your attorney, accountant, or financial advisor know where to find the original. Otherwise, your family may end up in court, and your true final wishes may be overlooked.