NC Attorney: The Case of the Missing Will

The “missing will”. This problem has gone on for decades even centuries. A family member finds a person’s will either while the testator is alive and unaware or in the aftermath when someone dies. They don’t like what they’re getting & destroy the will.

There’s a law with criminal implications if you steal, conceal, or destroy a will or codicil to a will.

North Carolina General Statute § 14-77.  Larceny, concealment or destruction of wills.

If any person, either during the life of the testator or after his death, shall steal or, for any fraudulent purpose, shall destroy or conceal any will, codicil or other testamentary instrument, he shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. (R.C., c. 34, s. 32; Code, s. 1072; Rev., s. 3510; C.S., s. 4256; 1993, c. 539, s. 39; 1994, Ex. Sess., c. 24, s. 14(c).)

I've been involved in cases where step parent's children ransack the house, take items & destroy a will because it affected their inheritance. Then the deceased's blood children have to battle it out with their step-siblings. By the way, a lot of fights arise between blood heirs and step-parents.

Safeguarding a Will: The solution is to make sure the will is in a safe, fireproof place. Make sure people you trust know where it is. Tell an independent, trustworthy person also.

          I suggest you keep it with your attorney if the attorney has a fireproof filing cabinet or safe.

          If the testator keeps it in a safe deposit box, a couple things:

1)    Make sure people you know the location of the safe deposit box

2)    Keep in mind that in NC the Estates Clerk no longer requires the safe deposit box to be opened with a clerk present to account for items in the box. I disagree with this legislation, I think it helped prevent important items from ‘going missing’.

Make sure your heirs know who the estate planning attorney was. Tell your family or friends whom you want to get the will.

I’m seeing a lot of homemade wills & ‘got of the internet’ wills (eg. Legalzoom). This is causing a lot more litigation over estates. These wills have lots of problems with them. They end up in a Will Caveat Proceeding (Lawsuit challenging a will).

Get an attorney to draft a will. It helps prevent fights. It should not be that expensive either.

If you’re involved in an estate or will that has issues, call Kirk Sanders 336-724-4707 to discuss your case.