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Sunday, September 19, 2010

What happens to wills held in a lawyer's office when that lawyer retires?

This question was asked by one of the readers of this blog, and I'd thought it would be of interest to everyone. When it comes time to look for someone's original Will so that it can be submitted for probate, the lawyer's office is one of the places executors will search.

When a lawyer is winding down to retirement, and is holding original Wills for clients, he or she may write to the clients to ask whether they would like to retreive their Wills. Unfortunately, clients don't always think to notify the lawyer's office when they move, so there are always plenty of Wills for which the owners can't immediately be found.

If a lawyer who has retired was working within a large law firm, any original Wills drafted by that lawyer may well continue to be stored at the firm after the lawyer's retirement. The care and management of the files would have been transferred to another partner in the firm. The contents of safekeeping vaults at law firms are recorded on a database so that if an executor calls looking for a Will, it should be able to determine quickly whether it is there.

If a lawyer was working on his or her own, or within a very small firm, there might not have been another partner available to take on this responsibility. Rest assured that the lawyer did not destroy the Wills. His or her practice may have been taken over by someone outside the firm, or by the Law Society. Your best bet would be to contact the provincial or territorial Law Society to see whether they can direct you. They keep track of which lawyers are actively practicing and would have a record of a lawyer's files being transferred to another lawyer on retirement.

When a lawyer leaves a firm abruptly with no planning in place, such as when he or she has a fatal heart attack or is disbarred, the Law Society sends in a practice custodian to take over the lawyer's practice. Again, they would have records of this that might be able to help you.

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