Estates & Wills & Trusts

New registry could end problem of lost wills: Bernstein

By Tony Poland, AdvocateDaily.com Associate Editor

A new online registry that can locate lost wills has potential benefits for the public and law firms, says Toronto wills and estates lawyer Daniel Bernstein.

The registry, launched in May, could speed up the process of finding lost wills and help lawyers better manage their files, says Bernstein, a founding member with Weltman Bernstein.

“We’re moving in this direction with more information available online which makes things a lot easier,” he tells AdvocateDaily.com.

“This is a pretty good concept because right now there really isn’t anything like this.”

Bernstein says one reality when drawing up a will is that it can stay on file for many years.

“I’ve got lots of wills that I did in the early ‘90s for people, and for some clients, it was the last I’ve heard from them, and I am still holding on to some of their wills,” he says. “I don’t know if they’re ever going to remember where their wills are, maybe some of those people have moved, maybe some have even passed away, and you are going to have to hold these wills once you have them.”

Bernstein, like many other lawyers, have changed their business addresses more than once, which can make it difficult for a client to track down their will.

He says it’s not unusual for clients to lose their copy of the will, which makes it all the more difficult when that person dies, and the next of kin does not know the name of the lawyer.

Typically in such a case, the executor of the estate would have to take out an ad in a newspaper and the Law Society of Ontario’s Ontario Reports asking for information about the whereabouts of the will, Bernstein says. He notes that it could be an expensive and time-consuming process that is not guaranteed to yield results.

Bernstein says the registry is simple to use. A lawyer can upload their client’s name and file number, and if someone is searching for that will, the firm will be notified.

He says he’s curious to see how the registry fares, but adds that it has the potential for success.

“As long as they get some traction, and people know about them and lawyers know about them, I think it’s going to work out,” Bernstein says. “It’s a good idea.”

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