Safe storage of wills in Sussex spurs questions from county council

GEORGETOWN – County-based, fire-proof storage of wills looms over the horizon in Sussex County.

Pending legislation – Senate Bill 238, an amendment to Title 12 of Delaware Code – would permit the deposit of original wills with the Sussex County Register of Wills.

Cindy Green

“Currently, we do not offer that type of service. In order to do it, we did have to amend Delaware Code, adding Sussex County,” said Sussex County Register of Wills Cindy Green, R-Greenwood. “This is something I have been looking at for a couple of years. We needed to do this.”

New Castle County has been providing will storage service since 1984 and a legislative amendment has also allowed Kent County to also come on board, Ms. Green said.

“So, the state of Delaware will be offering safe storage for wills,” Ms. Green said during a June 26 presentation to county council.

Senate Bill 238 passed the state senate by a 19-0 vote. No issues or objections were anticipated in the House of Representatives, Ms. Green said.

The major cost to the county would be the fire-proof filing cabinet for storage. That runs about $4,000, Ms. Green said.

State code spells out a $5 fee pertaining to New Castle County. However, the fee can be increased or decreased by New Castle County Council.

“The code says that the council can set the free,” said Ms. Green. “Initially, the code calls for $5. New Castle charges $10. I want to see if that it is going to cover the cost to buy the envelope, and then the cost of the cabinet.”

“Is $10 enough?” asked Sussex County Council President Michael Vincent, R-Seaford.

“This is not going to be a revenue generator. This is going to be a service that we will provide – $10 according to what they feel their expenses are,” said Ms. Green, noting she plans to travel to New Castle County to iron out details. “I will check that when we get there.”

“I would agree with you, it shouldn’t be a revenue generator. But it shouldn’t be a loss,” said Mr. Vincent.

Mr. Vincent questioned staff preparation.

“I totally agree it’s a good thing to do, but I guess my concern really is I think there are a lot of items that we don’t have the answers for; exactly how are we going to do some certain things,” said Mr. Vincent. “And, reading the bill, it takes effect upon the governor’s signature. So, the governor signs this thing July 2, you aren’t ready to do that, are you?”

“No, there will be a process to implement this on our part,” said Ms. Green. “We are going to only train two people to initiate this. Only two members of our staff will be trained. We will have to have an appointment, and we will take what our office can handle as far as adding this to our workload.”

Sussex County Attorney J. Everett Moore Jr. offered his opinion on the bill. “It reads to me that once the bill is signed, if someone comes in the service is available,” Mr. Moore said. “I’m not necessarily sure that you’re going to have people rushing in to do this right away.”

“I think it would have made more sense to me if the bill had said, ‘implemented as of Jan. 1, 2019,’ which would have given you six months to get everything lined up, and how you are going to do it …,” Mr. Vincent added. “I guess my fear is that somebody – whoever – will walk in the door or call for an appointment, and we’re going to say, ‘We can’t do that yet.’ I think it’s a great program, but we need to be prepared.”

“Kent County as far as I am aware, they are not quite ready. They are not as far along as what we are,” said Ms. Green. “It’s not a mandate. It is allowing us that we can do it. I am under the impression that we can implement it when we are ready.”

“Is this something that has been asked of the community as a need?” county councilman Rob Arlett, R-Frankford, inquired.

“A lot of other states do offer it,” said Ms. Green. “ So, our issue on our end is that people cannot locate the will. So, for us this was the reason that we would provide it for those that need it. There are some that have safety deposit box, but there are those that do not.”

Mr. Arlett asked if Ms. Green foresees any negatives. “Why should we not do this?” he asked.

“I don’t see any negative at all. I see this as positive for our office. I see this as positive for our county,” said Ms. Green. “And If it helps to make our office a little more efficient and it gives a little more customer service I’m all in to get this done.”

County councilman Irwin “I.G.” Burton inquired about anticipated response.

“How many are you expecting? What is your thought?” he said. “Two, three thousand … 20,000. What’s the number?”

“Twenty thousand would be on the high end. But there potentially would be thousands. It will take time to get to that point,” said Ms. Green. “I am hoping that a lot of families will take advantage of this. We’ll have to do some advertising and encouraging people. This isn’t something that people rush to do – take care of your will. It will take time. We will be trying to let our Sussex County residents know.”

Training will entail a trip to New Castle County.

“We just want to fine-tune. We’re not going to reinvent the wheel. They have already got it in progress,” said Ms. Green. “I will go myself and I will take one other person to get the fine details. There were some questions that we have. We will have to write this policy procedure up as it fits our office, based on the code.”

Ms. Green said one of things mentioned by New Castle County that you don’t do is that you don’t allow an attorney’s office to come and bring a box full of wills. “This is going to be an individual, to individually make an appointment, or their attorney can individually make this appointment to come in and store that one will,” said Ms. Green. “We are not going to be a dumping ground for boxes and filing cabinets full of wills that nobody knows about.”

Ms. Green noted that the Register of Wills will only be storing the document itself. “The person will be totally responsible for what is in that document,” she said. “It’s going to be in an envelope. It’s going to be sealed. We have to see how do we identify that? Do we use the name, or do we use a number? But we will only be storing a document that you say is your will.”

From his legal experience, Mr. Moore offered a request.

“When you do go to New Castle County and you start working on the policy, can you make sure that there is something that makes people aware that even though they have now stored it at the Register of Wills that they can amend it at any time or do a new will,” said Mr. Moore. “Over the years there has been this perception whenever a private practitioner drafts a will people think that it gets filed right away. And it does not. We need to make sure that they are aware that even though they may opt to store it in your facility, that they have something in front of them that indicates they are aware that is storage only. They still until the day they die have the right to amend it or do a new one.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.