You’ve just completed the signatures on your new estate planning documents. You have a Durable Power of Attorney, Healthcare Surrogate, Living Will, Last Will and Testament, and maybe a trust. Your estate planning attorney (you did use one instead of printing from the Internet, right?) scans them or makes copies, then presents the originals to you in a binder. You get home and think: Where should I store them? As great as these documents are, they can’t be effective if they get destroyed or no one knows where to find them. An Estate Planning Attorney can assist.
Safe Yet Accessible
For many older Americans, the first place they think of as secure and private is a safe deposit box in a bank. While that is an excellent spot, be mindful that if you are the sole owner, everything in there is now inaccessible to anyone else. For example, if your original will is in the box, and you are the only owner when you die, it will require a time-consuming court order for another family member to get access to the box. Only an original will can be filed with the courts. So if you use a safe deposit box, make your trusted people co-owners, such as your named Power of Attorney and/or the executor of your Last Will and Testament. Make sure these co-owners have a key and know the procedure for gaining access.
Probably the most common place to store estate planning documents is a home safe or fireproof box. The papers are readily accessible if you need to refer to them or give family members access. Again, ensure that these people know where the safe or box is, and how to gain access via combination or key.
If you don’t use any of the options above, at a minimum, store your important papers in a cool, dry, high place to avoid flood or moisture damage. Then tell those trusted people where they are kept. Don’t hide them in sealed storage bags in the fridge (It’s been done). It’s always a good idea to make copies and distribute them to the people named in the documents, so they have some idea of your wishes and your estate.
Last resort
If your original paperwork is lost or destroyed, you will need to sign new ones or the courts will deem you intestate (without a will) and subject to the state statutes. Your estate planning attorney will have copies of the previous paperwork that will speed up the process in drafting new ones, though it is a good idea to review if any circumstances have changed.
If you need assistance with any estate planning documents, call an Estate Planning Attorney at Mortellaro Law and schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.