Wills are important private and confidential documents. An original will should be stored in a safe and secure place after being signed and witnessed. Ideally the place should be fireproof and the like. Depending on the status of family relationships, if kept at home, it the document should be protected from tampering or destruction. And don’t forget to inform your executors where the will is located.
Probate law requires that the original will be attached to an application for a grant of probate from the court. Without it, the timely administration of the deceased’s estate is delayed until the situation is resolved. A summary of the usual approaches to storing a will follows.
- Some law firms offer storage facilities to their clients for the safe custody of wills and other legal documents, often at no cost.
- Original wills may be stored with your personal papers, preferably in a secure, fire-poof, water-proof document safe.
- Using 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.
- Private storage services who also offer safe deposit boxes for rent, such as those offered by Guardian Vaults and Custodian Vaults.
- State and Territory Public Trustees may offer a will storage service, even if you have not used their will-making services. Their contact details can be found through these links, click here.
- At the time of writing, the following Public Trustees offered will storage services:
- 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.
- The Northern Territory Public Trustee in the Department of the Attorney-General and Justice, offers a free storage service, presumably if nominated as the executor in the will. To find out more about this service, 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, 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, and information can be obtained from the Court Registry, click here.
The Probate Registry of the Supreme Court of South Australia suggests the following in taking care of an original will:
- place 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.
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, 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 3 August 2018.
© BHS Legal