While it’s not unusual for an original last will and testament to be misplaced, it is when your daughter happens to be the Register of Wills for Baltimore City.
What is a Register of Wills?
In Maryland, the Register of Wills is an elected official in each county and the City of Baltimore who is responsible for overseeing the administration of the estates of deceased persons during the probate process. As an added benefit, each Maryland Register of Wills provides safekeeping for the last will and testaments of living persons.
Why is it Important to Locate an Original Last Will?
Belinda Conaway became the Register of Wills for Baltimore City in December 2014 after her stepmother, Mary W. Conaway, held the office from 1982 through 2012. After Belinda’s father, Frank M. Conaway, Sr., died in February 2015, court records indicate that the family was unable to locate his original last will and testament but did find a copy of a will he signed in 1999. The 1999 will left Mr. Conaway’s estate equally to his children, Belinda and Frank M. Conaway, Jr. In March 2015, Belinda filed a petition requesting that the copy of the will be admitted to probate. She stated in her petition, “This copy was found among the personal papers and I have not been able to locate the original.”
Ironic that a person tasked with keeping track of wills can’t find her father’s will, isn’t it? Fortunately in this case, Mr. Conaway’s children agreed that the 1999 will was in fact their father’s last will and the probate judge admitted the copy to probate. But this may not be the case in your situation. Sometimes after an original will goes missing and a copy is found, family members will disagree about whether it is in fact the deceased person’s last will. If this is the case, then the copy may be overlooked in favor of an older original will that has been located or state laws that dictate who inherits when there is no will (known as “intestacy laws”).
Problems are especially likely to arise if you did not divide your estate equally between your heirs. In this situation, the people who are receiving less than they expected have strong motivation to challenge the will.
This is why it is so important for your loved ones to be able to find your most-recent original last will – because without it, the laws of your state may presume that you intended to destroy your will and a copy of it will be viewed as worthless.
Who Knows Where to Find Your Original Will?
Do you know where your original will is located? Do your loved ones know where your original will is located? While your family members certainly don’t need to know what your will says, they do need to know where your original will is being stored.
On the other hand, if you’re uncomfortable letting family members know where to find your original will, then let someone you trust – such as your attorney, accountant, or financial advisor – know where to find your original will. Otherwise, your family may end up in front of a probate judge and your true final wishes may be overlooked.
(Attached image taken from Flickr user Elliott Brown. Available here: https://flic.kr/p/bwKi8U.)