Are Wills Kept at the County Court?

by Joseph Nicholson
A will can be deposited at a county courthouse in many states.

A will can be deposited at a county courthouse in many states.

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There is generally no requirement that a will be filed or kept in any particular location during the life of the testator. A will becomes valid once it is duly executed regardless of where it is subsequently stored. Depositing the will in the county court is not the most common way to store a will, but it is an option in many states.

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Safekeeping

Many states allow the deposition of a will in the county court where the person making the will resides. The requirements for doing so vary according to state and local laws. For example, you may be required to deposit the will in a sealed envelope with information about the will on the outside. There is typically a small fee for enjoying this service.

Withdrawal

In counties where deposition of a will in the court is an accepted practice, there will be specific procedures for withdrawal of the will. For example, in one Wisconsin county, a deposited will can only be removed by the person who made the will once they provide identification. If any other person wants to withdraw the will, they must also provide a written designation signed by the testator and two other witnesses. Of course, if the testator dies, the probate judge will have access to the will once a certificate of death is filed.

Storage with Attorney

Probably the most common place wills are stored is with the attorney who drafted them. This is good for the attorney, because it makes it more likely that any future amendments or revisions will also be handled by him. It also takes the cost and responsibility for storage away from the client. According to the New York City Bar Association, an attorney who retires or dissolves her firm has the duty to dispose of any original wills in her possession in a place of safekeeping if the testator cannot be located.

Safe-Deposit Box

Another popular option for storing a will is a safe-deposit box. This has significant disadvantages in that maintaining the box carries a cost and access to the box could be severely limited after the testator dies. If arrangements haven't been made for others to access the box, beneficiaries of an unmarried decedent could experience delays in getting the papers necessary to get at the will. It is probably also more difficult to locate the self-deposit box than the testator's attorney or the county court in which they resided. But a safe-deposit box provides better protection than a safe in the home.