When it comes to making an estate plan, there are some things you may not think to ask about and some things you may take for granted. Consider your original documents, for example. Did you ask your estate planning lawyer who is responsible for storing them? Or did you simply assume that he or she would give them to you?
A few factors determine what actually happens. The first is whether your attorney still keeps his or her clients’ original documents. Some do, some do not. Even if your estate planning lawyer stores your paperwork, it may not be kept on site.
If your attorney’s practice has transitioned to a paperless system, you may end up getting your original documents. You may also ask your attorney for the originals if you simply prefer to have them. Either way, let us go over some things to consider when deciding where to store your estate planning documents.
If you are going to keep your will and other estate planning documents at home, think about buying a fireproof and waterproof safe or lock box. If you get a home safe, make sure someone you trust knows the combination. If you opt for another type of container, make sure you put it as far out of harm’s way as possible.
It is recommended that you avoid hiding your original documents in an unusual spot, or in a spot known only to you. This would make it difficult, if not impossible, for your personal representative to find them after you die.
It is also recommended that you avoid keeping your original estate planning documents in a safe deposit box. One reason is that the bank is not always open. Another reason is that access to the box is restricted to the owner. If you were the only owner, your family or personal representative would need a court order in order to open the safety deposit box.
No matter what, make sure that you make and keep copies of the original documents. If your original documents are lost, a court may accept a copy of your will for probate. This is an option only if your personal representative convinces the court they have exhausted all efforts to find the originals.
Conversely, intestacy rules may apply if your family is unable to provide your original documents or copies. This means that state law will govern distribution of your estate, not your own wishes. This happens based on the legal presumption that you never had any estate planning documents or that they were deliberately destroyed.
Estate planning documents provide critical information regarding your wishes for your future and that of your loved ones. If you have any questions relating to estate planning or where to safely store your documents, please contact our firm to schedule a meeting.