Most states require that an original signed and witnessed will be produced to the court for probate. Duplicate copies are most often not accepted.
Courts are extremely cautious and the general legal assumption is that if you cannot produce an original will it is because the decedent (otherwise known as a “Testator”) destroyed it with the intention that it not be probated. There are some exceptions but that is the general rule. Therefore, it is extremely important that the decedent’s survivors be able to find the original will.
While that sounds perfectly logical, people often leave their wills in places where they cannot be found, whether it be in an unlabeled folder or envelope or somewhere else that no one would think to look for it. Often, people will keep their wills in a bank safe deposit box.
Sounds logical right? Why not protect your most important documents in this fashion? Because, unless the Testator gave the bank authority to have someone else open their safe deposit box, the only one who can access its contents are the Testator who is now deceased! If this occurs the heirs may have to engage in a costly legal procedure to obtain a court order to have the safe deposit box opened by the bank.
The best option is to let your attorney keep the original will. This way it will not be lost or misplaced.
Additionally, if you are cautious and abide by this advice you will likely change your will at some point to make sure it is updated and relevant to your life’s circumstances. What if you were to go through the time and expense of updating your will but when you passed away your heirs found an older version of your will amongst your possessions. I can almost guaranty that every draft of your will is entitled “Last Will and Testament.” How would anyone know that a subsequent “Last Will and Testament” had been executed by you?
If you always keep your original wills in your attorney’s possession, when you execute a new will you can watch your attorney destroy your old original will so that it will never be found and accidentally probated.
So remember to keep your latest original wills safe!