About this series of articles
This article is one in a series that explains the most relevant law relating to wills and practical guidance so that you can write your own. We hope that it is thorough and easy to read.
Why where you store your will is important
Your will is one of your most important documents. After writing it, you need to make sure you keep it in a safe place where your executors (but no-one else) can find it when they need it.
If your will is damaged or if your executors can’t find it after your death, then your wishes might not be followed and the people that you want to inherit your possessions and money might not do so.
There is no legal requirement as to where you must register, deposit or store your will, but some places are better than others.
Wherever you decide to keep it, tell your executors where it is so that they can find it quickly after your death. Remind them every few years.
Be aware that only your executors have a legal right to read your will after your death and before the estate is fully distributed. Afterwards, only the beneficiaries of the residue have the right to see it and to the estate's accounts. So if you want the people to whom you leave gifts to be aware that you have done so, you might want to tell them or provide them with a copy of your will.
Keeping your will yourself at home
The majority of people keep their will in their house with other important documents.
Your home is probably the easiest place for your executors to find your will since it will probably be the first place they look if you haven’t told them otherwise.
The reason most people keep it with other important documents is that it is free – at least there are no ongoing costs.
The great disadvantage is that you might damage it accidentally and invalidate it. Fire, damp, mould and spillages are fairly common.
You could invest in a fire-proof safe and store your will in a sealed plastic bag, but the cost of doing that is greater than storing it elsewhere.
As a side note, never attach other documents to your will. Marks made by staples, paperclips, glue and sticky tape can raise questions about whether the will has been tampered with, or whether pages and amendments are missing. Your executors will find it more difficult to obtain the authority to carry out your wishes.
Lodge your will with the Probate Service
This Government service offers to store wills and codicils for a flat fee. It costs £20 (as at the time of writing in 2018) each time you lodge a document.
The Probate Service is operated by the Government. Be aware that there are many businesses online with similar names, but which are not the same service.
If it is convenient, you can take your will to any regional probate registry who will post your will to the Principal Probate Registry in London. Or you can visit the London office.
If you want to post your will in, you first need to obtain a “safe custody will envelope pack” from a probate registry office. The pack contains a form that you must complete and a special envelope to use. Once completed, you post the pack by registered or recorded mail to the Principal Probate Registry. You need a witness to certify that you are sending your own will.
The downside to this service is the effort required. Visiting a probate registry office isn’t convenient for most people, and the necessity to apply for, then complete the pack and have it witnessed requires much more time than using other services.
Storing your will with your solicitor or a bank
Your solicitor and your bank both probably will offer to store your will for free or at low cost.
The reason is commercial. Because they are the keeper of your will, your executors must come to them when you die. At that point, they might be able to persuade your executors to let them handle the work of administering your estate (called probate).
Your executors have no obligation to accept the offer – they can still carry out probate themselves.
Your bank will outsource the probate work to a solicitor and charge a margin on top.
Solicitors might store your will on their premises, but also might send it to an outsourced storage business that can keep it far more safely and can insure it. You should check where your solicitor will store it.
Your solicitor is also likely to register the fact that he has your will on a national database. The largest is National Will Register, which used to be branded as Certainty. Despite the official sounding name, the company is privately operated, not a government organisation. There are charges for both registering where your will is kept and for retrieving that information.
Check with your solicitor what the fees are for putting the will into storage, to continue storing it, and to retrieve it from storage.
Will storage companies
Will storage companies offer much the same service as your solicitor, but they are usually lower cost.
You should check the prices of the storage company. Hidden fees, particularly on retrieval, can make these services more expensive than they first appear.
We recommend that you read about challenging the contents of a will next.
We provide some of our more straightforward wills (likely to be suitable for most people) absolutely free with no catches or conditions. Visit our library and choose the most suitable will from the list. We offer nine templates in total that together cover thousands of possible variations of wishes. There will be one to suit your situation. If you are in doubt, you can read about which will to choose.