Keeping your Estate Plan Documents Safe
Once you’ve completed your Wills, Trusts, and other estate planning documents, you will normally take the original documents home with you. That raises the question: What should you do with those documents.
The short answer is that you should keep them in a safe place other than a safe deposit box.
We do not recommend keeping them in your safe deposit box due to the fact that some banks may be hesitant to permit your Executor or your Successor Trustee to have access to that box without a court order. And, especially for those who have set up a Family Trust at least in part to avoid the headache of having to deal with the court system, that requirement by the banks tends to frustrate that goal. So, to protect your Executor or Trustee from the headache of needless visits to the local courthouse, do not place your documents in your safe deposit box.
So, where should you keep your documents? We recommend that you acquire a small fireproof safe in which you store your documents at home. The safe should be large enough to handle the 9” X 12” binder in which your documents are presented to you. And using a fireproof safe protects the documents from destruction by a fire. Of course, if you already have a fireproof safe at home, you can just add your documents to the other contents of that safe.
You’ll want to be sure your Executor / Successor Trustee either has a key to, or knows the combination of, your safe so that he or she can access the documents when you pass away or in the event that you become incapacitated.
The other related problem that is solved by storing your documents in a fireproof safe is that it makes it much more difficult for a child or other heir to make the documents “disappear” in the event that they are unhappy with the terms of your estate plan.
What happens if you or your Executor / Successor Trustee cannot find the original copies of your estate planning documents? Is that a serious problem? Potentially very serious!
After you’ve passed away, your Executor / Successor Trustee will need the original, signed copies of your documents to have control over your assets in order to administer and distribute them according to your wishes. If those original documents are missing, there is a risk that the court or a bank may presume that you destroyed the documents in an effort to revoke your Will or Trust. With that presumption being possible, it throws into question whether your Executor / Successor Trustee really has authority over your assets. Which again forces your representative to go to court to unravel the situation.
So, if at any time you find yourself unable to put your hands on the original, signed copies of your Estate Plan documents, it is very important that you call the attorney who prepared your documents to set up a time to sign, witness, and notarize a replacement set of documents. Although our office can also prepare replacement documents for an estate plan that we did not initially prepare, it is usually more economical to have your original lawyer handle that process.
But remember: Failure to have new documents prepared and signed may condemn your Executor / Successor Trustee to the frustration and expense of going through an extended court proceeding to prove just what your intentions were with regard to your estate.