I Have a Will, Now What Do I Do?
It cannot be stressed enough how a will can make it easier on your family you leave behind. Taking the first step of having an attorney draft your estate planning documents is a very important step. Now that you have these documents, what should you do? Let’s explore some steps you could take after you have your will.
Find a Safe Place
Your will should be stored in a safe place, but where? Some people have a fireproof box or home safe they use to store important documents. Those would be a good place to keep your will. Some people, like my grandfather, kept his in his freezer, so it would be protected in case of a fire. Some people have a safe deposit box at their local bank. I don’t recommend keeping your will in there, unless you suspect your will may “disappear” or you move often. An exception would be if your family knows (a) you have a safe deposit box and (b) your will is inside.
There are two ways in Texas to look inside the safe deposit box of a deceased person. These are set forth in the Texas Estates Code, Section 151.001, et seq.
The first way is with the bank's permission. The bank may allow the decedent’s spouse, parent or descendant of the decedent to examine the contents of the safe deposit box. The examination must be conducted in the presence of a bank employee. The bank may deliver the will to the clerk of court or the person named in the will as an executor, a burial plot deed to the person performing the examination, and an insurance policy to the beneficiary named in the policy. The bank is required to keep a copy of the document and issue a receipt for the documents removed.
The second way to view the contents of the safe deposit bank is to have a probate court order the bank to permit a court representative to take possession of the will, burial plot deed or insurance policy.
If I had a dollar for every time a client asked me whether they should make a copy of their will, then I would . . . well, you get the idea. The topic comes up with almost every client. I have always advised against making a copy of the will and giving it to someone. The reason is your will may be updated, then having an older version out there could be trouble. The new will should state it revokes all previous wills, but if it doesn’t, then it may be treated as a codicil of the older will. Also, the new will may not be found, then your old will may be probated. When you make a new will, then I recommend you physically destroy your old will, so there is no confusion as to your wishes.
You may not want others to know how you plan to distribute your property until you pass away. However, you can at least tell your family that you do have a will and where you keep it. That way, they can locate it when you pass away. If you have funeral arrangements in your will, you should tell your family, so they can review it before they make funeral arrangements.
Updating the Will
More often than you may think, people have wills drafted but fail to update them when important changes occur, such as marriage, divorce, or birth of a child. This can cause issues for the new members of your family. Your new spouse would have to assert their rights under the law. Your child born after the will would have to argue they were a pretermitted child, e.g. accidently left out of the will, and seek inheritance under Texas Estates Code Section 255.053.
Having a will drafted is an important first step. However, you should not stop there. Put yourself in your family’s shoes and determine how to make it easy on them to settle your estate. Keep your will in a safe place, tell your family that you have a will and where to locate it, and keep it updated.
Contact us at the Law Office of Hugh Spires, Jr. for a free consultation. We make free house calls for those within 50 miles of San Antonio, Texas. Call us at 210-874-5700 or email us at hspires@TexasWillsLawyer.com.