Where Should I Store My Estate Planning Documents?

One question that I am always asked is, what do I do with my estate planning documents now that they are signed?  Your estate planning documents may include the original of your will, your trust, powers of attorney, health care directives or living wills, and real estate deeds. Other important documents might include life insurance policies, retirement account or other investment account documents, bank account documents, etc. It is vital that the original documents be safeguarded.  If a probate (court) action is ever required, the court may not accept a photocopy and your wishes may be thwarted.  Estate planning documents need to be stored safely, yet be available, when needed.  While some attorneys retain the original estate planning documents, most do not and I generally think it is inadvisable.  Your attorney may die, or otherwise leave the practice of law and this may create a difficulty in recovering the original document.  It is also a liability risk for attorneys to maintain the document.  Additionally, if your attorney is involved extensively in estate planning, the storage requirements become immense.So what should you do with your estate planning documents now that they are signed?  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Keep originals in a safe, secure place where it is unlikely to become damaged by water or fire. I prefer a fireproof safe. Make sure that someone other than yourself knows the combination or the location of the key. If you use a safe deposit box, make sure someone besides you can access the box. If you are the only one who can access the box and you become incapacitated or die, no one else will be able to open your box. Often the only way for someone else to gain access to your box if you become incapacitated or die is to obtain a court order.

  • While I don’t like to see a lot of copies floating around, it is recommended that the person you have named as your successor trustee or personal representative have a copy of the documents. I also recommend that you give them the contact information for your attorney who should also have a copy. Make sure you ask your attorney how long they retain copies.

  • A copy of health care documents can be provided to your health care providers. Some states provide a registry for such documents and there are private companies that will store a copy “in the cloud” and provide 24/7 access.

Regardless of where you decide to store your documents, the most important thing is that your family and those you have named to administer your affairs know where to find them.  We offer to keep a note in our client’s file regarding where the documents are stored and how to access them.  You have done too much work to prepare a good estate plan, don’t let the fact that it can’t be found thwart your wishes.