Where’s my will? My solicitor is ‘no longer practising’

Q&A: Dominic Coyle

The first rule of wills  is that any will drawn up renders a previous will null and void. Photograph: Getty Images

The first rule of wills is that any will drawn up renders a previous will null and void. Photograph: Getty Images

 

A good 12 or 13 years ago I asked my then solicitor to prepare my will. When I had reason to contact her about a separate matter, I was informed by the practice that she was “no longer practising”. This may mean several things.

I am wondering if I should instruct my current solicitor to write to the original solicitor and request the original will on the basis that he has taken over my legal affairs.

I have no way of contacting the original solicitor, but I am assuming that I should formally request the original copy.

Ms N.H., email

There certainly seems to have been a small communications breakdown between you and your former legal adviser. It’s irritating, but I don’t think you need to worry overly.

When a solicitor leaves a practice for whatever reason it would be normal good practice for the solicitor, and, I would have thought, for the practice to inform clients. That clearly did not happen here.

Had the solicitor simply been moving practices it would have been very odd as they could be losing valuable clients.

In this case there appears to be some uncertainty about the status. “No longer practising” is, as you say, open to all sorts of interpretation. Many are entirely innocent – she may have retired, fallen ill or simply taken time out to care for family. She may even have decided to switch career.

Of course, some are a little more unsettling, but it would be wrong to jump to conclusions.

It would have been helpful if the practice had been able to reassure you that there was no cause for concern or, alternatively, that you might be advised to contact the Law Society or whatever. But my guess is that it is still just likely to be down to poor office management and bad communications.

Either way, there is no real reason for you to worry. The first rule of wills – outside of the wisdom of having one – is that any will drawn up renders a previous will null and void.

So you don’t need to be stressing yourself about getting the original copy of the will held by your former solicitor back – apart from any concerns you might have about its safekeeping. You might approach her former practice again to check if such documents were retained securely in a central location by all the firm’s solicitors.

That aside, just draw up a new will. It doesn’t have to be radically different than the old one. In fact it doesn’t have to be different at all. As long as it is dated and revokes all previous wills – both standard practice with the wording of wills – it will become the active relevant document.

Getting too involved in having your current solicitor track down the former solicitor and where she has stored your will runs the risk of needlessly running up a potentially significant bill.

Please send your queries to Dominic Coyle, Q&A, The Irish Times, 24-28 Tara Street, Dublin 2, or email dcoyle@irishtimes.com. This column is a reader service and is not intended to replace professional advice.

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