Ah, lawyers. That smarmy, cash-grabbing group of wordy professionals who somehow legitimately charge you in 15-minute intervals for one text message. And if you thought their tricks ended when you are dead, you would be wrong: Attorneys even know how to ensure they wring out one last retainer after you expire.
When a person has their Will done with an attorney it becomes an excuse for the lawyer to say, “After all your thought and money, don’t you think it makes sense for me to hold onto your Will in case your family can find it when you die?” What the attorney was NOT telling you is that when you do expire they get the first chance at charging your family several thousands of dollars to initiate a Probate proceeding.
Here are the ONLY times you should leave your original Will with your attorney:
1. You are older than your attorney and don’t have a trustworthy family member.
If your lawyer is twenty years older and twenty pounds heavier than you, or if you have a perfectly-healthy spouse or children or trusted family member, don’t leave your Will with your attorney: You will probably outlive him or her, so why bother? Your Will could get lost when he or she does predecease you or get damaged during the long interval left while you are alive.
2. You have no close family members.
If you don’t have any family members (at least cousins or closer) you may want to have your attorney hold onto your Will. Remember that Wills require your nearest family members to agree to the contents of the Will…but if you have no family members the State tends to take charge of the proceeding. Leaving the Will with your lawyer ensures the State will pay attention to your estate and not let your file start accumulating cobwebs on some bureaucrat’s desk.
3. You are disinheriting family members.
If I came across my parent’s Will in their personal effects immediately after their funerals and read that I was being disinherited, then that Will is disappearing faster than fanny packs. If your estate disinherits family members, feel free to leave it with your lawyer.
4. You will be far away from your Will for a long period of time.
If you are going to be far away from your Will for a while, such as a six-month trip to the middle of Alaska, or the Amazon, or some other risky venture – heck, this was probably the reason you drafted your Will in the first place – it is okay to let your attorney hold onto your Will.
5. You are terminally ill.
If your demise is rapidly approaching, you may want to leave your Will with your attorney. Again, he or she will do the same thing I mentioned above (I.e. hit up your family for a retainer to probate your estate), but at least you still have a good relationship with your lawyer and want your family to know you trust him or her to administer to your final affairs.
Remember, lawyers die too. They also have office fires, floods in their basements, and just sometimes lose things. If you don’t have a better alternative then leave your original Will with your attorney, but in most circumstances you or your Executor should be the ones holding onto it.