Drafting a will that accurately reflects one's desires is a job in itself, but it isn't the end of the story. One must also ensure that one's will is going to be available upon one's death.
Sometimes wills get lost or misplaced. When this happens, the steps one should take depend on whether the testator-the individual who disposed of their property through the will-is alive or deceased.
If the testator is alive, the first step is to ensure see whether one is able to find any copies of the will as well as the original. In the event that one is able to find the original will, a number of things should be ensured: the will has been signed, dated and witnessed; that it is self-proving; that it is free from crossed out or vague terms; that it has been executed outside the presence of family members or beneficiaries; and that it has been signed voluntarily and free from any duress or undue influence. If the will cannot be found or if there are defects in any of these areas, a new will may be created which is correctly done, and all old copies of the will should be destroyed.
If the testator is not alive and the will has been lost or misplaced, the testator's property will be distributed according to New Jersey's intestate succession statute, N.J.S.A 3B:5-3 and 3B:5-4.
In our next post, we'll continue looking at this topic, specifically what happens when the testator's original will has been lost, but copies of the original remain.
Source: nj.com, "Your Legal Corner: What to do if an original will is not available," Victoria M. Dalton, 10 April 2011.