You have a family member who has passed away. You have diligently searched and located the original Will. Now what do you do with it? Take good care of that original Will until you can get it into court!
First, confirm it is the original Will, not just a good copy. There is a world of difference, legally. Sometimes it’s hard to tell. Look on the back for an impression of a signature if you are not sure.
Florida law does not allow a Will to be filed in court until the person dies, and then the law requires an immediate (within 10 days of death) filing by whoever has the Will. Few Wills get filed within this unrealistic time period, but it is important that the Will be filed in a reasonable time period and that it not get lost.
Not only is it expensive and time-consuming if an original Will is lost and the contents must be “proven” to the satisfaction of the Florida Court, but sometimes it’s not possible. The contents of the lost Will must be proven by at least one “disinterested” witness (someone who does not stand to benefit even indirectly from the lost Will) in a live hearing before the judge and a court reporter. If the lost Will has a distribution other than the one that would apply if there is no Will, someone may have been disinherited or given a lesser share. Such a person may require that the court must be shown some evidence proving that the deceased person did not revoke the Will by destroying it – in other words, proving that an event did NOT happen. Under some facts, this can be tough. Under all facts, it’s expensive. So if you have the original Will, it’s best if you file it soon after the person dies, in the probate court in the county of permanent residence. The court will give you a receipt for the Will and will keep the original safe until probate is opened.
Before you send the Will to anyone, it is important that you make a few copies of it and have a disinterested person compare the original to a copy that he or she keeps. When sending the Will to anyone, whether it’s the Court or the probate attorney, send it by some means that can be tracked, so that you lessen the chance that it gets lost in the mail.