When I was a newly-minted lawyer, I sought and welcomed advice from more experienced estate planning attorneys. I still do. Over and over again I heard “Keep your client’s original Will.” When I asked why, I received many answers, among them:
- Clients lose them;
- Clients write on them (can make the Will invalid);
- We’ve always done it that way;
- Clients expect us to keep them;
- When the client dies, the family will have to call us for the original Will (for probate); and
- We can sell all of the Wills to another lawyer when we want to retire.
Some of the answers seemed reasonable, but then I also heard about the costs and problems of keeping all of those Wills. You see, they have to hold onto them because they have no way to know who’s still alive, who’s dead, or who did a new Will with another lawyer. So they pile up. And as lawyers change firms or retire, and as firms buy each other out, the storage problems get worse. Some records are stored on paper, microfiche, and even old floppy disks. Boxes and boxes are stored offsite (not in fire-proof safes) incurring more expenses for the law firm. And the new administrative assistant can’t find a particular Will when someone is looking for it.
So, while I did keep some of my clients’ original Wills when I first started out, I stopped pretty quickly. I do keep a PDF copy for a few years, but I send all of my clients’ original documents home with them. Who better to protect their important documents from fire and hurricanes than the owner of those documents? And it’s so much easier for families to find an original Will in a safe or file cabinet than to try to track down the lawyer who drafted it 20 years ago and hope someone knows where that Will is stored. I don’t believe in holding Wills hostage in the hope that the bereaved family will call my office when probate is needed. I want people to call me because they want excellent service.
So, should your lawyer keep your original Will? In Florida, there’s no requirement that he or she does. It’s really up to your lawyer … and you.