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What if a Will is Accidentally Damaged or Destroyed

It is important to understand that the probate process can be a long and complicated process, especially if the will is missing or destroyed. It is crucial to take action as soon as possible to ensure that the probate process runs smoothly and your loved one’s final wishes are carried out. In this article, we will explore the steps you should take if your loved one’s will is accidentally damaged or destroyed, and how an estate planning attorney can help you through the process.

What to Do if Your Will is Accidentally Damaged or Destroyed

If you’re wondering what happens to your estate if your will is accidentally damaged or destroyed, you’re not alone. Accidents happen, and important documents like wills can be lost in fires, floods, or other unexpected events. But don’t panic – there are options for probating a damaged or destroyed will.

Common Places to Look for a Will

When a person drafts their will, there are a number of places where they can file their original and duplicate for safekeeping. If you are an estate executor or family member looking for a photocopy of the will, here are some common places to look:

  • In the testator’s home, in a safe or waterproof/fireproof container.
  • The testator’s office
  • The estate executor’s home or office
  • With the estate planning attorney who helped draft the document
  • At the county clerk’s office
  • In a bank safe deposit box (Note: while banks can keep your documents safe from natural disasters, it’s not always a good idea to store your paperwork there. Financial institutions can be very strict about access to safe deposit boxes. Without the proper paperwork and permissions in place, an executor or family member might not be able to obtain the will without a court order)

It is important to check all these places thoroughly as you may not know where the testator kept their will.

 Submitting a Photocopy of a Will for Probate

If the original will is missing or destroyed, a photocopy of the will can be submitted for probate with additional evidence such as an explanation of the destruction, proof of beneficiaries’ consent, and affidavits from witnesses who signed the original will. The court will want to see evidence that the original will was accidentally destroyed, plus proof that the beneficiaries consent to probating a photocopy of the will.

It is important to keep in mind that each state has its own probate laws and requirements for submitting a photocopy of a will. An estate planning attorney can guide you through the process and ensure that you have all the necessary documentation and evidence to submit a photocopy of the will for probate.

Consequences of an Intestate Estate

If a will cannot be found, the estate will be considered “intestate” and assets will be distributed according to state probate code. In this case, the assets will be distributed among the decedent’s heirs according to the laws of intestacy. This means that the assets may not be distributed according to the testator’s wishes and may not go to the beneficiaries named in the will. This can lead to family conflicts and disputes.

It’s important to take action as soon as possible if you suspect that a will may have been accidentally damaged or destroyed. Contacting an estate planning attorney is a good first step, as they can help you navigate the probate process and ensure that your loved one’s final wishes are carried out.

The Importance of Safekeeping Your Will

To prevent the loss or damage of your will, it is important to have multiple copies of the will and to store them in safe and secure places. This includes having a copy at home in a fireproof and waterproof container, a copy in a safe deposit box, and a copy with your estate planning attorney. It’s also a good idea to give a copy to your executor or a trusted family member.

It’s also important to review your will periodically and to update it as needed. This includes updating it after major life events such as the birth of a child, a divorce, or the death of a beneficiary.

Contact an Estate Planning Attorney

Dealing with the loss or damage of a will can be a stressful and overwhelming experience. An estate planning attorney can guide you through the process of probating a damaged or destroyed will and ensure that your loved one’s final wishes are carried out. They can also advise you on how to safely store your will and review and update it as needed.

The Probate Process

When a will is submitted for probate, the court will determine its validity and authenticity. If the will is accepted, the court will appoint an executor to carry out the instructions laid out in the will. The executor will be responsible for managing the deceased person’s assets, paying debts and taxes, and distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries as specified in the will.

It’s important to note that the probate process can be time-consuming and costly. An estate planning attorney can help you navigate the process and ensure that everything is done in a timely and efficient manner.

In Summary

Realizing that a will is damaged or destroyed can be a stressful and overwhelming experience.  Yet there are options for probating a damaged or destroyed will. It’s important to take action as soon as possible and to contact an estate planning attorney to guide you through the process.

How to Make Certain Your Will is Found When Needed

It’s also crucial to regularly review and update your will, and to store it in safe and secure places.  Registering your will with the U.S. Will Registry is free and gives assurance that your family will be able to locate it when needed.  In addition to registering your will, be sure to store your will with SideDrawer.com.  Sidedrawer.com is a free secure iCloud service that allows you to store a copy of your will in the event an original can’t be found. By taking these steps, you can ensure that your loved one’s final wishes are carried out and that your assets are distributed according to your wishes.

Make it easy for loved ones to find your Last Will & Testament

Our national will database eases the burden placed on your loved ones. In fact, it’s been estimated that 67% of all wills are lost or misplaced.

 
The U.S. Will Registry has minimized this problem. Lifetime Registration of your Will is  FREE, easy, secure and remains confidential.  Copies of your will are not registered, only their location. Your papers remain securely in your possession.
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