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The Importance of an Orginal Will Versus a Copy
The Clark County Court (which serves the greater Las Vegas area) accepts original wills for filing. If the original will was filed in another state or country because the original probate proceeding was initiated there, the Court will require a certified or exemplified copy of the will from that out of state court.
However, if the original is lost (rather than having been filed with another court), there is a problem. A petition must be filed under N.R.S. 136.240 to admit a copy or to prove the contents of the will. Therefore, care should be taken that the original will is kept in a safe place.
Some law firms ask their clients to be allowed to keep the original for safe-keeping and give the client a copy of their will with a stamp that says that the original is kept at the law firm. This is not our practice. The reason some law firms do this is in the hopes that when the person who wrote the will dies, the heirs will have to go the law firm and the law firm will hope to be hired to do the probate. Whoever is named executor in the will has the absolute right to choose whatever law firm they want to do the probate and the right to interview different lawyers and firms to pick a firm based on price, experience, or even on whether the executor feels comfortable talking to a particular lawyer.
The importance of the original will is reflected in the filing procedures of the Clark County Court. Almost all probate documents must be electronically filed which means the clerk who ultimately reviews the document sees only a PDF or other computerized document which usually does not show if the PDF file was made from an original. However, Wills must be filed the old-fashioned way of physically going to the court and handing the Will over the counter to a clerk who examines the Will to see if it is original and rejects the Will if it is not an original.
The traditional reason that Courts either refuse to admit a will copy or admit it only after extra procedures is that a traditional and accepted way to revoke a will is to physically destroy it. There is no requirement that all copies be destroyed in order to revoke the will. Therefore, the absence of an original will raises the suspicion that the original will was revoked by deliberate destruction.
If only a copy of the will is available, the Court will accept it provided that notice was given to all intestate heirs (relatives who would inherit in the absence of a will) and no one challenges it.
Some issues involving alterations to the original will are discussed in Problem Probates
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