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

Some day, 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” any time 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 fire proof cabinets or a fire proof vault in my office. Your Cornwall Lawyer – Journey Law PC 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 long time 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. That lawyer may be my associate Katherine Humphries (although our likely retirement ages are not too far apart). Whomever takes over the practice would have the documents transferred to them 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 Journey Law PC 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.  

Lastly, if I were to die or become incapacitated suddenly, you can rest assured that I have done my own planning. I have another lawyer I have appointed who would deal with my practice and the client property I hold and would either continue to run the practice or transfer it as described above.

-Michele

Michele R.J. Allinotte is the owner of Journey Law Professional Corporation in Cornwall, Ontario and she helps her clients make the best decisions for themselves, their families and their businesses. Her practice focuses on the areas of business law, estate planning & estates and real estate. Visit www.YourCornwallLawyer.com for more information or to make an appointment.