There is no legal rule about where you must leave your Will. However, there are loads of practical concerns. And pros and cons to each location.
The obvious benefit to keeping your Will in your home is that it is very accessible. You can review it, your kids can check it, and it’s only a few minutes away. The con to storing your documents at home is they are not as secure. Theft is a possibility, but so is fire or water damage. Imagine all the Wills that were lost during Hurricane Katrina or other natural disasters.
On the opposite side of the spectrum you can use a safe deposit box. And here the pros and cons from home are switched. Instead of worrying about natural disasters or theft, the concern here is accessibility. It’s a pain to get into a safe deposit box when it’s your own box. It’s difficult to get into the safe deposit box to get your Will after your death. But, in Virginia, the person who qualifies as the administrator of your estate can search the safe deposit box to see if there is a Will inside. If so, the bank is supposed to make a copy of the Will, put the copy back in the box, and give the administrator the original to take to the Court for the probate process. Also, with the recent changes to the banking industry, fewer and fewer banks are supporting safe deposit boxes.
Many attorneys are happy to store important documents for a fee. And there are attorneys that encourage people to leave their Wills with them so they are more likely to be hired in the probate process by the surviving family. I don’t provide this service, but it’s important to know that some attorneys will do this. In a practical sense, this is the most awkward of the options for your Will. One, it puts your family in a situation where they might feel obligated to use the original attorney for their probate services. This is 100% not true but it makes it awkward. The only thing to remember is that lawyers are people too. And people move, and die. So if the Will is from 20+ years ago, it might be close to impossible to find the attorney. So for all those reasons I highly suggest you don’t leave your Will with your attorney.
Every state is different. In Louisiana, you have the option of registering your Will with the Secretary of State. They have what’s called a “Will Registration Form” where you list the intended location of your Will. That way your surviving family can reach out to the Secretary of State to locate your Will. This is rarely used in Louisiana and Virginia doesn’t have a registry like this. As far as I am aware, no states require a Will registry but some states have a voluntary form like Louisiana.
Yes, in Virginia, you can take your Will to the Circuit Court where you live and pay the fee to have this Will recorded. The biggest problem with this method of storing your Will is that it is more difficult for you to change your Will and then record the new Will with the Circuit Court. (and there is a fee for each document that is recorded). Remember that a Will can be changed any time until you take your last breath!
Every situation is different, so you will need to decide which of these options make the most sense for you and your family. If you are writing a Will in your 40s without a major illness, it’s probably best to store your Will in a safe deposit box. If you have another reason to worry about a Will being lost or destroyed, a safe deposit box is a great option. Just make sure that your family knows where and how to access that safety deposit box.
If you are more concerned about convenience, then storing at home is perfectly fine. I would encourage you to use a fire and water damage proof safe. Ideally, a safe that is large or attached to the home’s structure to discourage theft. Many people use a large “Gun Safe” to store all of their valuable items and papers.