Ask the Probate Judge—Where to Store Wills
Rudd, appeared October 31, 2002, Albuquerque Journal, Business Outlook
Reprinted with permission
Editor's note: This column may not be quoted or reproduced
in whole or part without express written permission of the author.
Q: My grandpa signed a will but won't let his family see it. Don't we have a right to know what's in the will? Does he have to file it somewhere? Also, he says he can't think of a good place to store the will. Any suggestions?
Your grandpa has a right to privacy. He has no obligation or duty to share the contents of his will with you or anyone else during his lifetime. Nor does he have an obligation to file the will anywhere.
Occasionally, people record their will while they are still alive in the county clerk's office. At that point the will becomes public record and can be read by anyone. I cannot think of a good reason to do this, however.
The most important thing your grandpa can do is to tell a trusted person where he is storing the original will. Ideally, his personal representative, who will handle his estate after his death, should be familiar with his assets, where he keeps records, and where the original will is stored. Grandpa might consider giving his personal representative a copy of the will; he could seal it and direct that it only be opened upon his death.
Many people keep their original wills in a bank safe deposit box. If your grandpa fully trusts his personal representative, he might consider adding the personal representa-tive's name to a safe deposit box so that the personal representative can retrieve legal documents easily upon your grandpa's death. The bank should have a way to add another person as a tenant on a safe deposit box without giving that person ownership rights to all of the contents of the box.
New Mexico law allows you to deposit a will with the clerk of any district court in New Mexico for safekeeping during your lifetime. The will shall be kept confidential. However, problems could arise if: (1) you want to remove the will from the court to make changes, (2) you later revoke the will, but fail to remove the old will from the court, or (3) no one knows the will is there. I do not recommend that people deposit their will with the court.
Other possible places to store a will are a fireproof safe or file cabinet at home. I even heard of someone who stored a will in the freezer, thinking that may be the last place to burn in a fire.
No matter where your grandpa stores his original will, the important thing is for someone to know where his will is. He does not have to reveal the will's contents, but he should definitely reveal its location.
© 2002, Merri Rudd & Albuquerque Journal, All Rights Reserved