Where is your will?
We look at the options for the storage of wills.
The news this week that Lloyds has uncovered a huge store of wills it cannot match to its customers has raised alarm bells for nearly 9,000 families.
The wills were found among 190,000 valuable papers by Lloyds’ ‘safe custody service’ which has been closed to new customers since 2011. The bank has been working on the issue since July and has confirmed that in the majority of cases, 90%, no detriment has been caused as the stored wills were superseded by newer wills (which cancel out previous wills) or where the intestacy provision mirrored the deceased’s wishes. However, a small number of clients have been adversely affected and the bank has been in touch with executors to investigate whether estates have been administered correctly and according to the testator’s wishes. The bank has confirmed it will compensate those affected but the error could lead to contentious probate claims, negligence claims against executors and administrators, and issues with HMRC due to late or failed tax payments. Ultimately, a deceased’s wishes may not have been honoured.
So do you know where your will is?
Surprisingly, there is no central register of wills in England.
If you have made a will, you should satisfy yourself that you know where the original document is as the Probate Registry will require it when an executor applies for probate. Although it is possible to admit a copy will for probate, the application requires a court order for leave to do so together with supporting documentation. This will increase the costs and time to administer an estate.
Most banks no longer offer a safety deposit facility but those that do will charge for the service. Even if a will is stored in it, the bank is likely to request a grant of probate before it will reveal the contents. In a classic catch-22 situation, the will is required to obtain a grant of probate.
What are the options for storage of wills?
At the solicitors’ office
The majority of wills are likely to be stored by the solicitors’ who prepared them and this is the preferred option. Weightmans’ provides a secure storage facility for clients who have prepared their wills with us at no charge. Clients are also provided with a copy of their will for their personal records. We encourage clients to inform their executors of their wills and where they are stored, if it is appropriate to do so. If you have made a new will at a different firm of solicitors to your previous Will, you should request the return of the previous will so it can be stored with your new will to prevent any future confusion. Where solicitors have merged with a different firm or closed down and their files transferred to a new firm, clients should be notified in writing of this and provided with confirmation of any original documents that have been transferred.
The Probate Service
The Probate Service offers a service to store wills for safekeeping at a cost of £20.
You can keep your will in your own custody at home. Ensure it is somewhere secure and fireproof (for example a safe). You should think about who has access to the safe during your lifetime and leave instructions for access by your executors after you have died.
If you have made your will using an online service, was the original will retained by that company or returned to you? Wills are required to be signed in the presence of two witnesses so you will need to sign the final hard copy of the will irrespective of online instructions to the contrary. If the online firm has retained your will, you should satisfy yourself as to what their policy is if they cease trading and ensure that they are adequately insured if the will goes missing. Solicitors’ indemnity insurance covers this possibility but ordinary business insurance policies may not.
Many firms are adopting a 'paperlite' policy and you may receive a digital version of your signed will. You should ensure it is password protected and sufficiently encrypted so that it can only be accessed by the appropriate people. If no hard copy of your will is placed with your personal papers, consider informing your executors that you have made a will and where the original will is stored.