Lost Wills – What happens when a Will goes missing?
It is so very important to ensure that your original Will is kept safe.
If your Executors cannot find your Will or only have a copy to hand, you could put your estate, and your loved ones, in a really difficult position, including it being presumed that your Will no longer exists. This means that your estate will fall as per the Rules of intestacy – the exact opposite reason why you prepared your Will!
In a recent survey, 67% of people did not know where to find their parents' Will.
What does this mean in real life?
How does my Executor locate a Will?
As an Executor of an estate, you must undertake extensive efforts to locate the original Will.
This is often not as easy as it seems.
There are various companies, including law firms, which hold original Wills. The problem is – where does the Executor start?
They can contact the local law firms but… they will be sending many emails and letters out. There could be thousands of law firms in an X-mile radius, depending on where you lived. If you have a Solicitor acting on your behalf, this can increase costs.
Even then, you may not have used a local firm. Or you may have moved.
At Penn Chambers, we do not store Wills on behalf of clients for this very reason.
There are many online companies now which means that you need to print off the Will and execute it yourself. Not only is it a risk that you have not executed it properly if it is presumed that the original Will was returned to you, but it cannot be located, there is a presumption that you destroyed the Will with the intention of revoking it.
The presumption is rebuttable upon providing appropriate evidence, but this is a costly process which only delays probate.
What happens if my Executor has a copy of my Will?
For the avoidance of any doubt, the Probate Registry will not accept a copy of your Will. Only the original Will will be accepted.
Your Executor can apply to the Probate Registry with a copy of a Will, with evidence that this is your last Will and Testament, but this can cause a lot of difficulties and delay if there is a delay in finding the original Will, as the Executor can only act and start (the majority of) their duties upon Grant of Probate.
Delays can lead to legal disputes, increased inheritance tax (if HMRC penalties become payable) and delay the distribution of the estate.
Where should I store my Will?
There is no perfect place to store a Will.
Many people store their Wills at home in a safe, but, if you are burgled, the burglar is likely to go for the safe and take it as a whole. Your Will is then lost.
The best option we have to offer is the National Will Safe (NWS), which is a records storage facility, and currently holds tens of thousands of Wills (and Lasting Powers of Attorney).
There is an annual fee to store your documents with NWS and we manage the storage on your behalf.
We offer safe delivery of your Will and NWS keep those original documents in a waterproof wallet in a specialist archive facility.
Whilst your original documents are with NWS, they are fully insured against loss or damage. If your documents are lost or damaged at the time it is needed, or its loss or damage only comes to light at the time it is needed, then NWS are insured for up to £ 2 million to compensate anyone who loses out or incurs costs as a result of there being no legally binding document in existence.
NWS provide you with plastic identity cards for you and your Executors. They display your name, a unique storage reference number and our contact details.
You can access your documents at any time and at no charge. The documents can either be returned to your professional advisor at Penn Chambers Solicitors or directly to you, using a secure delivery service.
When your Executors need to access your Will, all they need to do is provide NWS with the Death Certificate and proof of their identity.
Your Will will also be registered on the National Wills Register at no extra charge.
Please contact me directly if you wish to learn more about NWS.
Emma Aslett Penn Chambers Solicitors 0207 183 4595 The information provided in this article is not intended to constitute professional advice and you should take full and comprehensive legal, accountancy or financial advice as appropriate on your individual circumstances by a fully qualified Solicitor, Accountant or Financial Advisor/Mortgage Broker before you embark on any course of action.