courts, law, lawyers, wills & estates

Why Lawyers hair turns grey – Part four of a series

One of the most expensive documents an individual will pay to have created during their lifetime is a will. Usually many hours of agonizing thought go into the process, not even counting the multiple trips to the lawyers office to complete the task.  So it is astounding how frequently those expensive documents go missing.

As lawyers we are evangelists for the will making process, since we know better than most the pitfalls of dying without one. Without a will you risk a portion of your estate going to unintended or unworthy beneficiaries and  your estate will be administered by those not of your choosing. We conclude every wills signing ceremony with the admonition to make sure that the will is kept in a safe place preferably a safety deposit box or fireproof safe, and even have the client sign a form advising where the will is going to be kept. What then could possibly go wrong?

A more or less weekly occurrence is a sheepish inquiry from a wills client, wondering if it is really, really necessary to have the original will,  ( yeah, in most cases it actually is ) as they seem to have misplaced theirs. In the result, we do a brisk business in re-printing and re-executing wills, at least, in the happy circumstance where the loss has been discovered during the lifetime of the testator, and while they still have enough of their marbles intact to make a will.

WESA. our new wills and estates law has eased the situation a bit, allowing us to sometimes probate a copy, or in some cases even a draft of a will, but there is always a risk, and there certainly is additional expense involved. Far better to have an original will to present to the probate clerk.

So why do people make it so hard on themselves (or, more precisely, on their recently bereaved family)? I have been involved in probate files where the original will had been squirrelled away under a wood pile, hidden in a freezer, cleverly concealed under wall to wall carpet, even buried in the  garden, and many others where it was never found at all. More than once helpful family have descended on a senior’s  home, and in a de-cluttering frenzy, have thrown out many of the senior’s personal papers, original will amongst them. Sadly, frail testators, struggling with the onset of dementia, are prone to doing the same.

The moral to the story ? listen to your lawyer, dammit, when they tell you to stash your will in your safety deposit box- that’s what they are for !

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