Florida law requires the filing of an original will upon a decedent’s passing – but wills can’t be filed with the court before the testator’s death. Storing your will securely, then, is critical. We’ll review some popular options for will storage, to help you make informed decisions.

Secure Options for Will Storage

When choosing a location to store your will, it’s important to keep three elements in mind: privacy, security, and accessibility. For these reasons, we recommend storing your will with your estate planning attorney – just be sure to let your loved ones know that the will is filed with the firm.

If you’ve recently lost a loved one and cannot find their will, try contacting the Florida Bar or the clerk of courts in the county where your loved one lived. They may be able to send out a notice to local estate attorneys, in case the will is stored at their firm.

Another option is to store the will in your home or with your personal representative. However, keep security top of mind. If you choose to store it in a safe or lockbox, for example, you’ll want to provide your personal representative or attorney with that information, along with the security code. Your personal representative will also need to keep your will private from third parties. It’s important to appoint a personal representative who is trustworthy and responsible.

But if your personal representative were to pass away or become incapacitated, would anyone else know where to look for your will? Though these are always possibilities with your attorney, as well – along with retirement  – you would still have the rest of the firm working on your behalf. 

Additionally, the Florida Bar requires attorneys to have an inventory attorney assigned for the purpose of contacting clients when the attorney passes away, so even if your estate planning attorney is a solo practitioner, you have some protection through these requirements.

Storage Options To Be Wary Of

There are many ways to store your will, but they may not all be a solid option. Case in point, digital storage. Using digital platforms to store estate documents can be extremely helpful for certain aspects of planning and probate – like safeguarding funeral receipts or tax returns – but not for storing a will. That’s because Florida law requires the personal representative to file the original will with the court within 10 days of being notified the decedent has passed.

Transforming and storing a will on film, microfilm, magnetic, electronic, optical, or other substitute media or recording a will onto an electronic recordkeeping system, whether or not in accordance with the standards adopted by the Supreme Court of Florida, or permanently recording a will does not eliminate the requirement to preserve the original will.

– Florida Statutes 732.901

You may also be wondering if a bank safety deposit box is a secure place to store your will. Safety deposit boxes can be a great option for some documents, but with wills, they may bring unexpected challenges. Unless your personal representative jointly manages the box with you, they won’t be allowed to open it. In fact, they’ll need a court order to do so. This can cause significant delays in the probate process.

If Your Will Can’t Be Found, Intestate Succession Applies

It’s important to discuss your will with your loved ones in advance, so that when you die they’ll know where to find it. If a will cannot be located, you’ll be determined to have died intestate. At that point, the court will appoint a personal representative to manage your estate, and your assets will be distributed per Florida’s intestate succession laws.

Additionally, if an individual attempts to create a fraudulent will, your loved ones won’t have your original signed will to present as proof of your true wishes. This can result in extensive litigation. Storing your will securely with clear instructions on how your personal representative can access it can help prevent these scenarios.