Storing a will for safekeeping
Storing a will securely is not always straightforward.
Wills are important private and confidential documents which take legal effect on the death of its maker. An original will should be stored in a safe and secure place after being signed and witnessed. Ideally the place should be fireproof, and protected from tampering or destruction.
In addition will-makers should consider their personal circumstances, family and other relationships when considering storage options. In some situations storing a will at home is not advisable if it is likely persons adverse to what it contains can access it. And make sure you inform your nominated executors or legal personal representatives as to where to find your original documents.
The importance of an original will
Probate law requires the production of the original will document when applying for a grant of probate from the court. Even if the estate is small and a grant of probate is not required, financial institutions and others will require to see the original will, or a certified copy of it. Without this important document, it the timely administration of the deceased estate is delayed and at additional costs until the situation is resolved.
Sometimes in narrow circumstances the court may approve a copy of a lost original will to be admitted to probate. Otherwise the estate is distributed according to the rules of intestacy, which the willmaker didn’t want, the point of making a will is so you can choose who gets what. After going to the trouble of making a will, ensure the original is protected.
Approaches to storing a will
Original wills may be stored with your personal papers, preferably in a secure, fire-poof, water-proof document safe.
1. Law Firms
Some law firms offer storage facilities to their clients for the safe custody of wills and other legal documents.
2. Safe deposit facilities
Bank safe deposit boxes
Storing a will in a safe deposit box at your bank. Some banks offer a variety of storage services for a fee, including packets, to keep documents secured. For example, the Commonwealth Bank offers a service, at the time of writing here, and Westpac here.
Other document storage services
3. Public Trustees
At the time of writing, the following Public Trustees offered will storage services:
In Western Australia:
The WA Public Trustee provides the WA Will Bank. A fee maybe required for people who have not used their services to draft the will.
The Victorian Will Bank of State Trustees of Victoria. Powers of attorney and other end of life documents may be stored. Charges apply per document, but if State Trustees have been nominated in the will to act as executors and/or attorney, in the case of a power of attorney, the charges may be waived.
In the Northern Territory:
The NT Public Trustee in the Department of the Attorney-General and Justice once offered a free storage service, presumably if nominated as the executor in the will. Such service offerings vary from time to time – to find out more, find their contact details here.
The Public Trustee of Queensland states that if you make your will using their services they will store it at no charge.
In the ACT:
In the ACT the Public Trustee and Guardian will store your will free of change if you make your will using their services. They retain the original and give you a copy.
Also in the ACT wills can be deposited with the Registrar at the Supreme Court: see section 32 of the Wills Act 1968 (ACT). A record of all wills is kept in a register, and any person may search it, s34 of the Wills Act. There is a fee for this service. Information can be obtained from the Court Registry here.
In Tasmania, at the time of writing, there does not appear to be storage facilities specifically for wills such as those provided by some Supreme Courts in other states.
If you have your will prepared by the Tasmanian Public Trustee, they can hold the original document in their safe custody for free as part of their will and executor services. Solicitors preparing wills on client instructions may offer storage facilities to their clients. A bank safe deposit box may be used. Private self-storage facilities for documents are another option such as store-it-safe in Launceston.
4. Probate Registries
New South Wales
As provided by the Succession Act 2006 in NSW, anyone can deposit their will with the Probate Registry of the Supreme Court for safe keeping, go here.
The Probate Registry of the Supreme Court of South Australia suggested the following in taking care of an original will:
- place it in an envelope or plastic packet;
- don’t remove staples, pins and the like (if there are any) to photocopy or scan it;
- don’t attach any pins, clips staples etc to it. If there are any holes, marks in the paper left it may raise the question as to whether the will has been tampered with requiring explanation by affidavit.
In addition it is worth placing a label on the outside of the envelope or packet with the following information:
- The willmaker’s name and address as it is recorded in the will;
- Name and address of executors as stated in the will;
- Date of the will;
- If being stored in a storage facility the name and contact details of the person depositing it.
Similarly any codicils made to a will should be stored together with the original of that will in a safe and secure place.
Storing copies of an original will
Scanned copies of an original will document can be stored electronically in various ways. For example in a password protected file or on a password protected USB flash drive device, which in turn needs to be kept in a safe and secure place.
Tell your executors
Finally, although a will is a private and confidential document, it is helpful to let your executors know where to find your will when it is required and who to contact, if applicable.
Sometimes a willmaker may overlook telling their executor where they put their original will. This can cause difficulty and delay as loved ones search high and low, not sure whether the original will might even be lost. If the will had been secreted away, in some obscure place, such as being put in a container under the house or in the roof, then the danger is that unless executors or loved ones think to search every nook and cranny, it may be concluded that there was no will. In that case the estate would be distributed according to the intestacy rules, which likely would not be the outcome the deceased wanted, given they went to the trouble of making a will.
Nor perhaps it is a good idea to do what one lady did in storing her will. One version of her will was kept in the dining room drawer, knowing that certain relatives would check it out in her absence, while another, the intended final version, was kept somewhere else! Maybe she felt she had good reason.
7 Sep 2014, updated 16 June 2021
© BHS Legal