Your estate plan includes a number of important documents that need to be kept safe yet must be accessible after you die. This includes your will, your living trust, powers of attorney, and any living will or advance directives you may have. It’s critical that these documents are protected; but you may need to access them again in the future to update them, and the executor of your estate needs to be able to find those documents in order to ensure your final wishes are followed. Here is some important information about storing your important paperwork.
Where to Store Your Will
There are a few choices that make good sense for ensuring that your will and other estate planning documents are secure until they’re needed again. These include:
- Give documents to your personal representative. One of the most obvious choices is to store your documents with the person who will need to access them first. When you choose your personal representative, you should first make sure that he is willing to accept the responsibility. During this conversation, you may ask if he would be comfortable keeping copies of your estate documents. You may also ask that your documents be stored in a secure location such as a safe or a safety deposit box controlled by your representative. If privacy is a concern, enclose your documents in a sealed envelope with instructions that it is not to be opened until your death.
- Ask your attorney to keep your documents on file. Most attorneys who specialize in estate planning and probate issues understand the need for secure document storage and can keep a copy of your documents in the office or other secure file storage location. If you choose to use the services of an attorney for this, make sure that your family, personal representative, and other trusted parties know that you’ve made this choice and are given contact information for the attorney.
- Store documents in a safety deposit box. A safety deposit box can be an appropriate place to store your estate plan, as long as you do a little planning first. You’ll need to notify your personal representative that the safety deposit box exists, where it’s located, and ensure that that he’s authorized to open the box, or a court order will be needed. You’ll also want to ensure that he has a key or access to the key to the box.
- Keep documents in your home. Your home is another option for storing your estate planning documents, but it’s best if you take some precautions if you make this choice. The safest place in your home is in a heavy safe that’s rated for fire and water resistance and anchored to your home’s structure in some way. You’ll also need to let your personal representative know that your documents are located in your safe, which means disclosing its existence and location. You must also make sure that he has access to the key or combination.
Whatever option you choose, note how important it is that your personal representative knows where your will and other documents are located and has access to them.
Where Not to Store Your Will
There are a few places where it’s generally never a good idea to store your estate planning documents, including:
- With your beneficiaries. Storing your documents with your heirs, beneficiaries, or others who have a stake in the contents of your will is generally never advised. The potential conflicts of interest could create problems for your estate.
- Online. Your personal representative is going to need an original signed copy that’s witnessed by two people. A copy printed from a computer, cloud storage service, or website isn’t likely to be accepted by the court.
- In the freezer. A surprisingly common myth is that the freezer is a safe location for important documents. Even if you seal your estate plan in a waterproof container, it’s too easy for paper to be damaged by the cold, moisture, or condensation, or to get thrown out while cleaning.
Remember, your will and other documents form the heart of your estate plan. By taking care of how and where you store them, you’ll be ensuring that your last wishes are followed, and your family will be taken care of when you’re gone.
Get Legal Help With Your Will
If you have questions about your will or other estate planning documents, the Law Offices of Molly B. Kenny is here to provide the answers that you need. Please call us, or email us using our contact form to arrange a private consultation here in our Bellevue office.