Do I Need to Register My Will?

This step is not mandatory anywhere in the country. There are states, however, where you can register your last will and testament, and then you also have the option anywhere of registering your will online. This registration would mean storing some key details about your will, especially where you placed it. Some counties give you the option of actually keeping your will safe at the probate court.

Before delving into this optional step, it is important to note that a will registry is different from a living will registry, just as those two types of documents are different. While a will chooses an executor, beneficiaries, and a guardian, a living will contains wishes that get triggered when that person is incapacitated, wishes such as relate to health care choices, for example.

Reasons You Might Want to Register Your Last Will & Testament

What Happens When a Will Can't Be Located

If probate court does not get your will after you pass away, then the will does not get implemented. If no one can find your will, you would be said to have died without a will (or to have died "intestate", to get to official terminology). This would mean that the laws in your state would dictate how your estate gets split up. So your closest relatives would probably get all the property, but this would leave some specific wishes left out, such as if you wanted to give certain property to friends.

For instance, let's say that a man writes a will that splits up his property in half between a biological child and a stepchild that he did not formally adopt. Then he also adds that he wants to give his nephew his coin collection. Everyone knows that he wrote this will, but if they cannot actually find it, even after scouring the house, then that will-maker will be said to have died intestate. His biological child receives all the property per state law, despite the will-maker's wishes to leave something to his stepchild and nephew as well.

What Registering Your Will Does

If your family and your executor cannot track down your will, then they can turn to the registry. So in the above example, let's say that the man registered his will with the probate court in his county. So after his children look through the house and can't find the will, they remember that their dad had said something about a registry. They contact their local probate court and come across the man's registry. In the registry, they read that he stored the will in a safe deposit box. The key to it was taped under his office desk. In this way, his kids are able to find the will and enter it into probate, and his wishes can be fully honored.

How to Register a Will

It depends on your state's laws, so your first stop is to go to your probate court to see what your state and your county offer. Sometimes, you can just register the will with the court and leave the document itself there. Sometimes you can only register details about your will, details that will most definitely include the site where the will is being kept. You might also have the option to go to a private company that registers wills. These companies register your will online. Whatever option you choose, only specific people will be allowed to see your registry, such as your immediate family members and your executor, for example. Also, whatever route you take, you will have to update your registry every time you move, or if you write up a new last will and testament.

The process of registering a will is fairly straightforward, once you've decided where to go:

  • Complete a form
  • Pay a (small) fee
  • Leave the will itself in a sealed envelope at probate court (if possible)
  • Tell someone you registered your will, and where

The last point is especially important, as otherwise, your careful steps will come to nothing if someone does not know to look into the registry. Or, you could just tell your family where the will is. It could save you a great deal of hassle and time, and even save you a little money to boot.

When you have questions about local laws and estate planning, you can find the expertise you're looking for when search through our directory. Contact a qualified probate attorney today to find the answers you need!