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Who Keeps the Original Copy of a Will?

According to a poll conducted by Cambridge Trust in 2021, 52% of adult children do not know where their parents keep the original copy of their last will and testament. That begs the question, whose responsibility is it to keep the original copy of a will? 

From the testator (the person who makes the will), to the safekeeping provided by legal professionals, and the supervision of probate court, let’s understand the practical steps to keep this important document safe.

Hi, I’m Amanda Waltz, an estate planning attorney based in Northwest, Ohio. My path to this profession has been one of continuous growth and learning. Today, as the proud owner of my own law firm, I am grateful for the trust placed in me by individuals seeking guidance in preserving their legacies.

Now, let’s talk about who keeps the original copy of a will. 

In This Post:

Initial Safekeeping

During the final estate planning meeting with me, I’ll have all the original documents printed and ready to be signed by the testator. Together, along with two witnesses, we review everything discussed and sign each section.  

Once everything is complete, I scan the originals to keep an electronic copy on file for my records. This is a backup plan in the event the original copy becomes lost or damaged. All the original documents are placed in a binder and given to the client. The client is ultimately responsible for keeping the original copy of their will safe. It is also important to let the executor know where and how to find these estate planning documents for when the time comes that they’ll need to access them. 

If the client really doesn’t want to keep the original copy of their will, there is another option. Under Ohio Revised Code 2107.07 the testator or attorney for the testator can deposit the original will with the probate court. However, there is typically a small fee for this service. The will is then kept safe in a sealed envelope and is not open until certain requirements under Ohio Revised Code 2107.08 have been satisfied. 

Probate Court and Official Custodianship

After the passing of the testator, the original will is filed with the probate court. Most likely the executor will already know where to locate the documents and is the one to submit the will to the probate court for validation and approval. 

The court’s acceptance of the will initiates the probate proceedings, during which the executor carries out the instructions outlined in the will and manages the distribution of the deceased person’s assets. (Read more about the duties of an executor here.)

The original last will and testament remains with the probate court. The will itself becomes a public record once it’s admitted to the probate court for administration.

What If the Original Copy of a Will Is Lost? 

Despite precautions, the original will may be lost. While this may present some challenges, there are options. The court may accept a copy of the will if the executor has made a reasonable effort to locate it. However, if this happens, all beneficiaries will need to be notified. 

As I mentioned above, I keep an electronic copy of each of my clients’ documents. The executor may reach out to me to request a copy of the original will. I may be able to assist with any additional procedures, guidance, or supporting documentation the court may require.

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