Trust and Estate Counsel

Tennessee Estate Planning Law

Insight and commentary on estate planning issues impacting affluent residents of Tennessee

Where Is Your Original Will?

I recently met with a couple for whom I prepared Wills in 2006. They want to make a change to their Will because a member of their family died unexpectedly. When they went to their lockbox, they were unable to find their original Wills. Fortunately, they still have the ability to sign new Wills.

What would have happened if one of my clients had died and the survivor was unable to find the Will? It is likely that we could have probated a copy of the Will. Tennessee law allows a Court to probate a copy of the Will when there is credible testimony that the Will has been lost and that there was no intention to revoke the Will. I have successfully probated copies of Wills on 6 or 7 occasions. Every time that I have probated a copy, no one objected and a close family member was able to give credible testimony about the Will being lost.

You should assume that your heirs will be unsuccessful in probating a copy of your Will. When the original Will cannot be found, there is a strong presumption under Tennessee law that the Will was revoked. There have been numerous cases where the Court refused to probate a copy of a Will. If the Court refuses to probate the copy, the Court will choose an administrator to manage your estate and distribute your assets according to the intestate succession laws of Tennessee.

Due to the problems caused when your original Will cannot be located, it is very important that you keep your original Will in a lockbox or other safe location. You also need to make sure that one or more trustworthy persons knows the location of your original Will.

Revocable trusts do not have the same problem. The Trustee does not have to produce the original Trust Agreement in order to carry out its duties. This is another potential benefit of a revocable trust.