Where Should You Store Your Estate Documents?
If you’ve got estate plan documents such as a will, power of attorney, perhaps a living trust, and a healthcare decision-making document written up, good for you! These documents will help ensure your wishes are carried out and your assets are distributed as you intended. The next question you want to ask yourself, however, is: where is the best place to store estate documents?
If you have your important paper stuffed into a file cabinet, stacked on a shelf, or even worse, you’re not quite sure where they might be, then it’s time to change that. Here are 5 possible options for storing your estate documents:
- Fireproof box: In addition to being fireproof, the box you choose for your documents should be lockable and light enough for you to carry in case of an emergency. Be sure to put your documents into plastic storage bags first to protect them from possible water damage.
- Safe: Safes are generally secure and resistant to water and fire, although you may want to look into how much protection your safe actually provides. You will also need to make sure someone else aside from you knows how to get into the safe.
- Your attorney: If your attorney has written legal documents for you, then he or she will typically keep originals or copies in their office. Having a set of estate papers with your attorney and a set in a fireproof box is a good strategy, but understand that many attorneys do not keep original documents in their office. If the attorney does, ask them if they are using a safe for storage, and what their policy is on clients getting their documents back.
- An out-of-town friend or relative: Asking a friend or relative you trust to hold onto your estate papers is a good way to prevent all of your documents being destroyed by a regional natural disaster such as a hurricane or a flood. If you choose to do this, be sure to include the contact information for your attorney and the executor of your will. Of course, with this option you won’t have immediate access to any of your documents should you need them. Again, keeping one set in a fireproof box and another set with a friend or relative is a good strategy (although there are issues with having multiple original Wills).
- Online: Like everything else these days, estate planning document storage has gone digital. You simply upload the documents into an online database and provide the appropriate people with the log-in information they need. In just a few clicks, they’ll have all of your documents at their fingertips. No sifting through papers, no confusion. There are several good websites to choose from and all use the latest security software to ensure your estate documents are kept safe. We do not endorse any particular solution, and keep in mind that you will need original documents in order to satisfy a healthcare provider, a bank, or the local government.
What About a Safety Deposit Box?
Although people think safety deposit boxes are the best place for their estate documents, there is a major downside—availability. First of all, banks are closed on Sundays and in the evenings. In addition, banks may be closed or have limited hours during times of emergency such as blizzards or what’s happening now with the COVID-19 pandemic. The other huge concern is that if there is any question as to the owner of the box (and you aren't it), you won't be able to get in at all. There’s just too much risk of not being able to access your documents when you need them. However, if you decide to keep anything in a safety deposit box then make sure whomever you want to have access are specifically authorized to have access.
Make Sure Your Estate Documents Are Safe
Having these documents easily accessible to you and your loved ones when the time comes can make stressful circumstances much easier. Visit an elder law attorney to ensure your estate plan is in good order. You can reach us anytime at 609-842-9200 or at the “Contact Us” link on our page.
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