Sussex County could offer storage of wills

Sussex County Register of Wills Cindy Green spoke before the county council at its June 26 meeting, regarding Senate Bill 238, relating to the storage of wills.

“What Senate Bill 238 will allow Sussex County to do is to store wills,” explained Green. “Currently, we do not offer that as a service. And in order to do it, we did have to amend the Delaware Code.”

Green said the bill, thus far, has received positive feedback and support.

“My first piece of legislation is in progress,” said Green. “It has been voted on in the Senate … for this to move forward. The bill is now at the House, and we’re not expecting any issues with it. It has been received very positively.”

Green said New Castle County has been offering will storage since 1984.

Green said that, prior to purchasing equipment for the storage, the code needed to be altered. In order to implement the law, Green said, her office will need a fireproof filing cabinet, which costs approximately $400.

Council President Michael Vincent noted that New Castle County charges a fee of $5 for storage.

“Does that cover the cost of it?”

Green said the council can set the fee, and currently New Castle charges $10 per will storage.

“Is $10 enough?” asked Vincent.

“This is not going to be a revenue-generator. This is going to be a service that we’ll provide… I will check that when we get there,” said Green.

“I agree with you that it shouldn’t be a revenue-generator, but it shouldn’t be a loss item. I think it should be a break-even item,” responded Vincent.

Green said two members of her current staff will be trained to carry out the new offering.

“We will only take what our office can handle,” she said, noting that people will have to make an appointment for the service. “We’re going to control the flow so we can handle it.”

Vincent said that, while he believes it’s a great service to offer, there are a few outstanding questions.

“Reading the bill, it takes effect with the governor’s signature. So, if the governor signs this thing on July 2, you aren’t ready to do that, are you?”

“My fear is somebody would walk in the door or call for an appointment, and we’re going to say, ‘We can’t do it yet.’”

Green said her office would give those inquiring about will storage a date for when the program would be operational.

A day-long training will be offered through New Castle County. Green said she sees the initiative as being positive for Sussex County and her office.

Green said she hopes a lot of families will take advantage of the program, stating that 20,000 wills would be on the high end of what she expects to come in.

“There will potentially be thousands, but it will take time to get to that point.”

She added that attorneys’ offices will not be allowed to bring in boxes of wills.

“An individual will make an appointment, or their attorney will individually come in and make an appointment to store that one will,” said Green. “We’re not going to be a dumping-ground for boxes and filing cabinets of wills.”

Councilman I.G. Burton asked if the office would be reviewing the wills to make sure everything is signed and notarized.

“We will only be storing the document itself,” said Green. “The person will be totally responsible for what’s in that document. It’ll be in an envelope and sealed.”

County Attorney J. Everett Moore Jr. noted that he would like something added to ensure the individuals are aware that while they are storing their will at the Register of Wills’ office, they still may amend or create a new will.

“Over the years, there’s been this perception, whenever a private practitioner drafts a will, the people think it gets filed right away, and it does not,” said Moore. “We need to make sure that they’re aware, even though they may opt to store it in your facility, that they have something in front of them indicating that it is storage only… They still, until the day they die, have the right to amend it or make a new one.”

“When they’re there, we will speak to them about what can be done,” Green said.

By Maria Counts
Staff Reporter