Accounting for Law
Estates & Wills & Trusts

What happens to my will if my lawyer dies, retires or moves?

By Michele Allinotte

Someday, I hope to retire and enjoy my life after law with my family and loved ones. However, I will not be “riding off into the sunset”anytime soon, and I expect to be an active lawyer in Cornwall and area for another two or more decades.

My practice and the practice of many lawyers is to hold original wills and powers of attorney after they are signed by clients. The clients are provided copies of their signed documents, and the originals are kept in fireproof cabinets or a fireproof vault in my office. Allinotte Law Office Professional Corporation has a database which indexes every original document that has ever been held by our office, including documents that have been entrusted to us by other lawyers who have retired. Specifically, when longtime Cornwall lawyer Donald White retired in 2015, his original wills, powers of attorney and corporate minute books were transferred to us.

Clients often ask what would happen to their documents if I die, retire, or move. I also often have clients calling saying they don’t know where their will is since their old lawyer has died, retired or moved. This can cause a lot of stress for clients who are looking for these documents when their loved one is ill or has recently passed away.

Your original documents are your property, not mine. I cannot destroy them. If I retire, I need to ensure they are either returned to you or kept by another lawyer in Ontario.

I hope that when I retire, another lawyer will take over my practice. The documents would be transferred to that lawyer and public notices would be made. In this day and age, not everyone reads the paper and addresses are not kept current, so notifying every single client who has an original will with Allinotte Law Office Professional Corporation may not be possible. In some cases, the wills are transferred in bulk to another law firm when a lawyer retires, and similar notices are made.

In either case, it is my duty (or the duty of my estate trustee if I have died) to notify my governing body (now the Law Society of Ontario) where all client property is, which includes original wills, powers of attorney, trusts and corporate minute books. I have contacted the Law Society to find client property after other lawyers retired, and they would always have the information on any client property I had possession of while I was an active lawyer in Ontario.

If I were to die or become incapacitated suddenly, you can rest assured that I have done my own planning, and I have another lawyer I have appointed who would deal with my practice and the client property I hold.

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