Don’t Put Your Will in Your Safe Deposit Box

Where’s Your Will? Avoid the Safe Deposit Box!

By The Law Office of Daniel Del Collo, III LLC

January 1, 2016

When it comes to the safekeeping of your original Will, I advise clients to avoid using a safe deposit box because doing so may trigger a time-consuming process to gain entry to the box once the owner passes away. And delayed access to a Will can impact the Probate process and funeral planning (see below).

It’s a “catch 22” scenario because the document that gives an executor the authority to access the safe deposit box is locked away within the box itself. And even if a good personal relationship existed between the deceased and the banker, a financial institution may not honor a copy of the Will after death due to its own internal liability policy (there is no proof that a copy represents the most recent original). Recall also that a Power of Attorney document is useless to gain access to the box because once the principal passes away, the document has no legal effect.

Another need for quick and easy access to the original Will is for funeral planning. In New Jersey, a named executor in a Will has the authority (during the 10-day Probate waiting period) to make funeral arrangements so long as the Will contains the correct funeral disposition language, otherwise the planning and burial may be on hold for at least 10 days after death.

Instead, I suggest placement of an original Will (and your other Estate Planning Documents) in a fireproof home safe, fireproof lockable filing cabinet or your lawyer’s office, provided it is equipped with lockable fireproof storage. When storing originals at home, be sure to communicate the location to your Executor.

This article is not intended as legal advice. Be sure to consult with an experienced attorney when contemplating any of the above-described matters.

About the author. Daniel Del Collo, III is an Estate Planning and Elder Law attorney with an office located in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. He is also a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. To discuss this article or any others, you can contact Dan at (856) 533-2405.