Where Are Last Will and Testaments Filed?

By Jeffry Olson, J.D.

Where Are Last Will and Testaments Filed?

By Jeffry Olson, J.D.

State laws do not require an individual creating a last will and testament, known as a testator, to file the document during their lifetime. However, filing the document before death can prevent problems for survivors. Upon the death of the testator, the last will and testament must be filed in the probate court of the deceased's county of residence.

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Problems Locating a Last Will and Testament

Common sense suggests storing a last will and testament in a secure place, such as a safe or safety deposit box at your local bank branch. Many jurisdictions require that the original last will and testament be produced upon the death of the testator. Although testators often consider storing their last will and testament in a safety deposit box, doing so can cause problems. At least one survivor must be aware of the box and be able to gain access to it. Although the personal representative assigned in the will has access to safety deposit boxes, the will that names the personal representative is locked away in the safety deposit box.

Often, the attorney who drafted the will keeps the original in a secure, fireproof safe. Again, this creates its own problems. The survivors must be able to identify and find the attorney, assuming that person still practices law when the testator dies.

If the testator files a last will and testament with the county, survivors can easily find the document when the time comes.

Filing a Last Will and Testament

Most states suggest filing a last will and testament with the county recorder. For a nominal fee, the office will accept the will and provide the testator with a filed copy. This document should then be securely stored. The personal representative named in the will and all relevant family members should receive copies as well. Drafting a new will or codicil replaces this document on file, so any future will or codicil must be filed with the county recorder.

When the testator dies, the personal representative appointed by the will files a copy of the last will and testament to begin probate proceedings. The probate court in the county of the deceased's primary residence typically receives the document. During the probate process, the court confirms the validity of the will, oversees administration of the deceased's estate, and resolves claims against the testator and the estate.

During their lifetime, many testators choose to file their last will and testament to avoid future problems for their survivors. It makes it easier for the survivors to locate the will and begin the probate process. Upon the death of the testator, the will must be filed in the probate court of the deceased's county of residence. This begins the probate process, during which the court oversees the handling of the deceased's estate.

If you need assistance, you can speak to an attorney who specializes in the probate process and can help you through the probate process, whether it be drafting a will or settling the estate of the decreased.

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