Do You Know Where Your Will Is?

by: Kristin Arnett

02/06/2016 07:33 AM EST

When the time comes to find a family member’s will, it often turns into an unwanted game of hide-and-seek: the person who has died stashed the original document somewhere, and now others must try and find it.

It’s understandable that people want to keep their wills private. After all, a will contains personal information. 

But the original of a will should not be hidden from everyone. The person for whom the will was drafted and at least one other individual need to know where the will is, at all times. This other individual is typically the person named in the will as the personal representative (who will oversee probating the estate).

Keep in mind that courts generally require the original will to be able to probate an estate. When the original cannot be located, it delays the probate process and makes things complicated for family members, who are already facing a difficult situation due to the loss of their loved one.

But what if, after searching the person’s house, office and other logical places, the will cannot be found? There are still some options: 1) with the death certificate in hand, check with the county probate court to see if the will was deposited there for safekeeping, and 2) check the individual’s safe deposit box.

Another important step in locating a missing will is to contact the attorney who prepared the will, to see if he or she knows where it might be. At Newburg Law, we offer clients the added service of storing their original will for them. When the original needs to be accessed, the client or the client’s representative contacts our office and we get the document into the right hands. 

If, after diligent efforts, the original will simply cannot be found, Michigan law does provide for “lost” wills. MCL 700.3402(1)(c) lets the copy, rather than the original, be admitted to probate. The petition to admit the copy must state the contents of the will and must indicate the will is “lost, destroyed or otherwise unavailable.” 

A note of caution regarding “lost” wills: if the person who died was in possession of the original, it is presumed that the will was destroyed and the person intended to revoke it. This presumption can be overcome, however, by offering evidence of the person’s intent — not always an easy task when the individual is deceased.

So ask yourself this question: Would your family know where to find your original will, if something should happen to you?