Your estate plan documents should be kept in a safe place as the originals may be necessary. A copy of a Will can often be probated, but it is not without its costs and headaches. Preserving the original documents is very important.
A common recommendation is to keep your estate planning documents in a safe deposit box. This is an excellent place to keep you documents; however, you need to be very careful that someone will have access to the safe deposit box in the event of your death or incapacity. The Will will be necessary for your personal representative to be appointed after your death and your financial and medical powers of attorney will be necessary if you become incapacitated.
By having a third party as signatory on the safe deposit box, you can ensure that your estate plan documents will be accessible before they are needed. Choosing a signatory is very important because they will have access to all the contents of the safe deposit box. A good rule of thumb is that if you trust someone to be your financial power of attorney, they should probably also be trusted as a signatory of your safe deposit box – the fact is that they will have virtually unfettered access to your finances upon your incapacity anyways, so if there is any doubt as to their credibility you should reconsider their nomination in the first place. The same could be true for the person you appoint as personal representative of your estate.
If you do not have a safe deposit box for you estate planning documents, you should find a secure place in your home. The best alternative would be a safe that is attached to the structure of the house. Smaller, unsecured safes provide little protection from burglaries and thefts as they are targets of any thieves looking for valuables.
Another alternative may be to simply have your attorney hold on to your estate plan documents. Attorneys may provide this service for free or a nominal storage fee. However, keep in mind that an attorney may have the same fire and vandalism issues in their office. Most importantly, an attorney may have a set file retention policy that requires files to be returned or destroyed after a certain amount of time. A verbal agreement made with the attorney may not be remembered in 5-10 years when the attorney cleans out the old files and either a) attempts but cannot locate the client or b) simply destroys the documents.
Regardless of how the estate plan documents are stored, always make sure that someone knows where they are and/or who to contact to access the documents. If documents are unknown to your friends and loved ones, your entire estate may be distributed according to the laws of intestacy, which are typically substantially different that the intent of the decedent.
Patrick Curnalia is an estate and tax planning attorney with Curnalia Law, LLC. Patrick has worked with many clients to help the machieve their planning goals. Our firm services the entire Denver area and is located near the Denver Tech Center. Find out more about how our firm can help you by visiting our website at www.curnalialaw.com.