Let Your Attorney Keep Your Original Documents

Let Your Attorney Keep Your Original Documents

I’ve often heard people say, “With time comes wisdom.” When I first started practicing law, I was trained to always keep clients’ original documents at the office. However, I was never comfortable with why we did that. I was told that we keep original documents so that the family would have to come back to the office to probate the estate. Often, we would name ourselves as the attorney for an estate and even sometimes the executor as well. These practices never sat right with me and therefore, I rebelled against all of them. However, I eventually had a real-life case that taught me there are good, valid reasons for an attorney to keep originals, not just those that felt morally questionable.


I knew a man who was nearing the end of his life and had been taken care of by his loving grandson for over five years. The grandson did everything for his grandfather; mowed the lawn, prepped meals, cleaned the house, drove him to appointments, etc., while his children did next to nothing. After a few years. The grandfather went to his attorney to have his estate planning documents changed so that his grandson, not his children, would be the sole beneficiary of his assets upon his death. Unfortunately, the attorney gave the original documents back to the grandfather. After his death, the grandson came to our office to probate his estate but was unable to find any of the original documents that his grandfather had changed. He only had copies of the documents and a note saying the originals were in the safe, but he was still unable to locate them.


Pennsylvania law provides that you must be able to produce the original Will for probate, and, if you cannot do so, you must prove what occurred to the originals. Further, if the original cannot be found, it is considered destroyed by the testator (here, the grandfather). If the original was left in the attorney’s office and it was to burn down, that attorney would be able to certify where the original document was when it was destroyed and that it was not intentional.

We tried everything we could to prove what had happened to the grandfather’s Will, but everything we tried failed. We were fairly confident that his daughter, who was previously his power of attorney and a beneficiary under the old Will, still had a key to the house and made sure that the updated Will disappeared. The grandson inherited nothing because the original could not be found, while the children, who had done nothing for their father for the past seven years, inherited everything.


There are many similar stories of financial powers of attorney. Too often, these documents are used to take advantage of the principle, but if the original document had not been in the hands of the agent until it was necessary, that abuse of power could have been avoided. Thus, your attorney has good reasons to recommend keeping your original estate planning documents at his/her office. We do it here are Bellomo & Associates as a courtesy to our clients so that they know where their documents are and can get them easily when necessary.


By the way, it is also a good idea to destroy your old documents as soon as you sign new ones so that there is no mistake about which ones are in effect. Bring your old documents with you when you sign your new ones, and your attorney will shred them for you!