A common problem encountered in estate administrations is locating a testator’s will. Many executors and next of kin do not know where to find the testator’s will. There are even instances where the testator cannot remember where he or she stored their original will for safe keeping.
A potential solution to this problem is a will registry. A will registry is a useful tool designed to assist parties in locating the testator’s will. A quick search of the registry can confirm whether an individual died testate or intestate. It also has the potential to reduce both the time and expense associated with searching for a missing will and the added cost of proving a lost one.
Recently, the County of Carleton Law Association, with support from the Federation of Ontario Law Associations, launched an online wills registry called Will Check. Will Check is run by the County of Carleton Law Association Library. Will Check stores information about the lawyer or firm where the will is being kept but it does not store the actual will. Searches of the database can only be performed by members of the Law Society of Upper Canada. At this time, only lawyers practicing in the Ottawa area can submit wills information to Will Check.
Will Check is not the first wills registry in Canada. The province of British Columbia has a wills registry maintained by the Vital Statistics Agency. In B.C., applicants file a Wills Notice. A Wills Notice contains the location of the will and can be filed by lawyers, notaries, trustees or individuals over 19 years of age. Like Will Check, the registry does not keep an actual copy of the will – only confirmation that one was made, when it was made, and where it is located.
A similar system exists across the pond in the United Kingdom. A private business called Certainty operates an online national wills register. The website is endorsed by the Law Society in the UK. Approximately seven million wills are included in the database.
In the United States, each state has its own approach to will storage. For example, the state of Alaska allows you to deposit your will with the court, and after the testator dies the will becomes a public record.
Will Check could be the solution to the problem of the missing will. Identifying the location of a testator’s will can save on costs and time and provide a testator with the added peace of mind that his or her wishes will be carried out. Even without a registry, testators should consider advising their executors regarding the location of their will. This way, they can take comfort in knowing that their will can be found.
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