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Julie Garber

What Happens if Your Family Can't Find Your Will?

By February 20, 2013

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Here's how this one goes - a child comes in to meet with me after their parent has died, the child shows me a copy of the parent's last will and testament, and then the child asks me what needs to be done. The first question I ask is: "Do you have the original will in your possession, or if not, do you know who does?" If the child has the original will or knows where it's being stored, then great, we can continue to discuss what needs to be done.

But if the child doesn't know where the original will is or who could possibly have it, then our discussion will take a completely different direction. Why? Because in Florida a will is presumed to have been revoked if the original can't be found. This could mean a couple of different things: (1) The person will be deemed to have died instate - meaning without having made a valid will - which will mean that their estate will go to their intestate heirs instead of the beneficiaries named in the lost will; or (2) If an original will dated before the lost will is found, then the older will may take precedence over the lost will; or (3) A copy of the lost will may be admitted to probate. Any one of these scenarios will most likely result in a will contest if the intestate heirs and the beneficiaries named in the wills are different.

The moral to the story: Make sure that someone knows where your original will is being stored and also who to contact after you die. If you fail to do this, or if you choose to keep your will a secret, then your loved ones will end up spending thousands of dollars on attorneys' fees to sort it all out during a difficult time.

February 25, 2013 at 9:25 pm
(1) dcdoc says:

Can there be more than one “original” will, e.g., someone signs and has witnessed three copies of the same document all that the same time? (Photocopies won’t do? How about electronically stored documents?)

What should be done with the “original” will – kept in a safety deposit box?; left with the attorney who drafted it?; or what?

If someone is rushed off to the hospital, then the person who would act as their health care surrogate needs the AMD and/or POA in hand, not sitting in a safe deposit box or in a lawyers files, but no such immediate need for a will, right?

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