Storing your will: Really bad real-life ideas and how to avoid them

Jun 19, 2021
Sometimes it's just better to be explicit about where you've stored your will. Source: Getty.

For many people, writing a will is one of those tasks that lingers in the back of the mind as something important but not urgent. It goes in the same category as cleaning the gutters or consolidating old superannuation accounts.

If you’re reading this, then you are probably one of the wiser folk who live by the creed of don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today. You have recognised the importance of having your affairs in order and saving loved ones the stress of guessing your wishes after you’re gone.

Well done, you’ve written and signed your will, had it witnessed and safely stored it in the vegetable crisper.

No? Well, read on for some of the bizarre places wills have been stored and found in the past.

The surprising importance of secure will storage

But before you feel too satisfied, ask yourself: when was the last time I updated my will? Maintaining your will is a serious matter and it is all too common for people to adopt a ‘well, that’s all taken care of’ attitude once the ink has dried.

It’s best practice to revisit your will once every seven years as a matter of course. Many people will make or update a will following a major life event, such as the birth of a child, purchasing a property, marriage, divorce or the death of a family member or loved one.

These are all very good reasons to reassess what you have legally documented. However, a major step people often overlook is the importance of registering and storing your will securely, and letting the executor know where it can be found.

In the worst-case scenario, failure to locate an existing will can result in you being deemed intestate, the legal word for a person without a will. This can cause a great deal of emotional stress for loved ones, as well as requiring time and effort to figure out and, in some cases, guess your intentions.

Some really bad real-life will storage ideas

So, back to the vegetable crisper.

Yes, that is a true story. People store wills in all sorts of unusual places. I recently spoke to a relative of a deceased person who insisted there was an existing will and it had been kept in their relatives’ oven!

I thought it sounded unlikely but sure enough, when a search of their premises was made, a very dry and crisp will was found in the storage drawer at the bottom of the oven. Had the relative I spoke to lost capacity or passed away, no one would have known. Vegetable crispers and oven drawers are not the recommended storage locations for your will, by the way.

Another example was a deceased person whose office and house were in a state of disarray, filled with years of undisposed paperwork, mail, garbage and food waste. It was not possible to go through every sheet of paper in the two premises individually. No will was found or known of and the estate proceeded along intestacy lines.

Some months later, among what appeared to be accumulated rubbish, an informal handwritten document was found that might be thought of as a will. The matter had to be brought before the court, causing unfortunate delays and introducing significant costs as the family tried to resolve the matter.

The best thing you can do once you’ve completed your will is register it and have it securely stored. There are various options for doing this across Australia, with registry and storage services available in each state.

You should also let your appointed executor know exactly where your will is securely stored, review it at least once every seven years, and update it when a major change to your circumstances occurs. It has never been easier to make a will, but remember that is only the first step towards ensuring your voice is heard when you’re no longer around to tell people to check the vegetable crisper.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Where should I keep my will?
Ideally in a location that is fireproof, waterproof and protected from tampering or destruction. Depending on where you are in Australia and how you’ve written your will there may be a Public Trustee service that can store your will for you.

Q: What are the requirements for a will to be valid in Australia?
A: For a will to be valid, it should be: in writing (either handwritten, typed or printed), completed by a person who is over 18 years of age and mentally competent, clearly sets out the will-maker’s wishes, and signed in the presence of two adult witnesses who have signed the will and are not beneficiaries.

Q: What happens if I don’t have a will in Australia?
If you die without a will or your will is not valid at the time of death and you left behind a partner, then all of the estate will go to them. If not, an application for a Grant of Letters of Administration will need to be made to the Supreme Court. In most instances, the grant is made to the next of kin of the deceased.

Q: Can I write my own will in Australia?
Yes, anyone in Australia who is over the age of 18 years and who is of sound mind can prepare their own will.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your financial or legal situation, objectives or needs. That means it’s not financial product or legal advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a financial or legal decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get independent, licensed financial services or legal advice.

Does your executor or your loved ones know where your will is?

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