Your will is one of the most important documents of your life, so it makes sense to protect it as best you can. One way to ensure your will survives you is by filing it with a registrar office which can register your will and make it part of public record. While there is no statutory requirement in any state that requires testators to file or register their will during their lifetime, you can voluntary submit your will for registration with various governmental and commercial agencies for extra assurance.
Register the original or a certified copy of your will with your state Register of Wills, if your state maintains such a registry. Register with the office in the county where you currently reside; most states prohibit testators from filing with an office outside of their residential county. If your state registry requires it, prepare and file a letter testamentary, also called a letter of administration, naming your appointed administrator and granting him the authority to act on behalf of your estate after your passing. You may need to pay a registration fee at the time of filing, which averages around $10 to $15, although most state registries do not charge a fee for registering a will.
Read More: Where Are Last Will & Testaments Filed?
File the original or a certified copy of your will with the clerk of your local office of the county recorder, also called the registrar of deeds in some states. There is usually a nominal fee -- on average, between $10 and $30 -- that you must remit at the time of filing. Bring a self-addressed stamped envelope with you and request a copy of your filed will, which the clerk will return to you via mail. Store the copy of your filed will in a safe place, such as a fireproof lockbox or filing cabinet, where your relatives can retrieve it after your passing.
File the original copy of your will with the clerk of the probate court in the county where you currently reside. The filing fee for filing with the court is typically higher -- on average, between $50 and $100 -- when compared to the county recorder, but the court can assign a matter name and docket number to your estate to prepare for future probate proceedings. Opt out of receiving a docket number at the time of filing if you prefer to keep your will private during your lifetime. Otherwise, your will becomes a part of the public record after filing. Note that not all state probate courts accept filings by the testator during his lifetime; contact the clerk of your probate court for more information.
Register a certified copy of your will with a private registration service. Opt for either a local service provider who is easily accessible to your relatives, or a well-known nationwide provider that covers your particular state. If the registration service collects information on where your will is stored, provide the location of your original will along with clear instructions on how to obtain it. Remember to provide the location of the key or the combination for retrieving your will, if applicable.
Each time you add a codicil to your will or execute a new will, remember to register your updated version with the same agencies with whom you previously filed. Otherwise, the old version may supersede your current will in probate, especially if no one is aware of your updated will.
- "Drafting Wills, Trusts, and Other Estate Planning Documents"; Kevin D. Millard; 2006
- "Wills, Trusts, and Estate Planning Handbook"; John Harvey Williamson; 2001
Carrie Ferland is a practicing civil litigation defense attorney in the Philadelphia Area. As an author, her work has been featured in various legal publications for over 10 years. Ferland is a 2000 graduate of Pennsylvania State University and completed her Juris Doctorate and Master of Business Administration with the Dickinson School of Law. She is currently pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in English.