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Storing Wills: Don't Spread Important Documents Around too Thinly

As part of its service, Kings Court Trust provides a safe, dry and secure Will storage facility.  Testators have a lot invested in their will – not just the costs of having it professionally written, but also the effects it will have when the need for probate arises.  From a prudent risk management perspective, testators should consider the wisdom of simply keeping such an important document with their papers at home where the Will could, conceivably, become lost or be destroyed inadvertently or even on purpose. Fires and floods do happen and risk of loss is increased at stressful times as when moving house.

Secure Will storage at Kings Court Trust

Kings Court Trust places Wills entrusted to our care in a professionally managed offsite storage centre.  To keep them on our premises (even if we had the room for the 65,000 we currently hold), would be to expose them to unnecessary risk.

All the Wills sent to us for storage are kept safely by our chosen storage partner, Restore plc.  Restore has more than 2.1 million square feet of secure and flood proof storage space available, located away from city centres, industrial estates and the water table and, therefore, the associated risks.

If we think about it, it makes perfect sense to store one's Will in a secure facility.  We all take care of things that we treasure: we keep our money in the bank or building society, and jewels or other valuables perhaps in a safe, or strongbox at the bank.  I know people who keep their passports at the bank.  Even things like share certificates and Premium Bonds – which are of course replaceable in the event of loss or damage after the owner's death, unlike a Will - are kept in the proverbial "safe place".

Missing will..?

The difference with your Will is that, if it's lost or damaged after death, your estate might be dealt with under the terms of a previous Will or as if you had died intestate.  Consider the case of Margaret Johnson.  Margaret was a relatively wealthy and, charmingly, slightly eccentric single lady who had made more than a dozen Wills over the last decade of her life, each revoking the last.  As she made each new Will, she was sure to destroy the one she'd written previously.  The changes she made were not substantial – mostly modest low value specific legacies to her friends, who changed over the years – and the residuary beneficiaries of her estate (her cousin Susan, with whom she lived, and an animal charity) remained unchanged throughout her testamentary career.

When Margaret died, her last Will could not be found – nobody had a clue where it could be.  Her cousin Susan didn't know where Margaret had kept her previous Wills but was convinced that she had been remembered in her last Will, because Margaret had always said so, and Susan's Will, stored with Kings Court, left her estate to Margaret should she survive her, based on the cousins' commitment to each other.  Susan was of course deeply concerned.  If Margaret's estate were to be distributed as on her intestacy, it would be her brother and her nephew and niece (her late sister's children) who would inherit – Susan didn't know them that well and Margaret had never really got along with them and had not left them anything in her Will.  The risk to Susan was that she could end up being made homeless – just because Margaret's Will could not be found.  Had Margaret's Will been stored in a secure facility, this situation would simply never have arisen.

Intestacy..?

When Margaret's brother took steps to apply for a Grant of Letters of Administration to her estate, in order to administer it in favour of himself and his and Margaret's nephew and niece, Susan became resigned to her fate.  She asked a friend if her son, Derek, in his 40s, would be kind enough to come and help her clear some boxes from the loft of the home she'd shared with Margaret for thirty years. Margaret had always been in and out of the loft but Susan was slightly infirm and Derek, who had often done odd jobs for the cousins, was happy to help.  As he was moving boxes of books, mementoes of long forgotten holidays and other ephemera, he came across what looked like an old bathroom cabinet, with a mirrored front.  He moved some of the boxes around it out of the way and opened the cabinet door.  Inside were three shelves, each bearing nine empty Marmite jars (Margaret had been keen on the stuff – Susan couldn't bear it).  Behind the jars on the middle shelf was an envelope.  In the envelope was Margaret's last Will.

Fortunately for him, Margaret's brother had incurred very little expense in his efforts to apply for Letters of Administration to her estate – he'd had a few conversations with his solicitor and little else – and he was, naturally, completely out of the picture as far as the distribution of Margaret's estate was concerned.

Safety first

The moral of the story is, of course, that one's Will should be kept in a safe place.  Margaret's slight eccentricity had informed her choice of perhaps-too-safe a place – had she discussed it with Susan (or anyone else...) they would surely have suggested that the best thing for all concerned would have been to keep her Will in somewhere safer than behind some empty Marmite jars in an old bathroom cabinet in her loft and to let people know where it was.

Kings Court Trust stores tens of thousands of Wills for testators and, on receipt, writes to them, confirming that we have their Will and supplies leaflets for the executors so that, come the day, they know where to go to get the Will – without having to search the testator's loft.