New York State Bar Association Committee on Judicial Ethics
Disposal of wills
Testators’ locations unknown
Ethics Opinion 1182
Background: The inquiring lawyer is in possession of over 500 wills where the testators’ whereabouts are unknown to the inquirer and/or cannot be discovered with due diligence. The inquiring asks if he may dispose of the wills, when, after due diligence and significant passage of time, the attorney is unable to learn the whereabouts or other circumstances of the testators.
Opinion: The Committee concluded that a lawyer may not dispose of wills even when the testators’ locations and/or circumstances are unknown. A lawyer must safeguard the wills indefinitely unless the law provides an alternative.