Did you know that estate planning is important for many reasons, but all of them can be undermined if your original estate documents are missing, stolen, or damaged beyond recognition? Failing to safely store signed estate documents can cause irreparable, and avoidable, harm. Let us take a moment to discuss four ways to prevent that from happening:
1. Safe Deposit Box. Safe deposit boxes are ideal when it comes to protecting important documents. They are basically miniature bank vaults that store valuable items and protect against home hazards like accidental loss, water damage, fire and theft. Problems, however, can arise if the box-holder becomes medically incapacitated or dies without providing access to the box. Consider granting a family member or trusted confidant joint access to the box, particularly if they are your designated health care agent or your estate’s personal representative.
2. Storing them at home. If you are going to store original estate documents at home, put them in a waterproof container and out of harm’s way, such as a high shelf to avoid flooding. A home combination safe is also a good option as they can be both waterproof and fireproof in addition to protecting against theft. Make sure someone you trust can get inside the safe in the event you fall ill or pass away.
3. Online hosting. Storing original estate documents online is a growing trend with many benefits, including portability and ease of access. All you need is WiFi and a password. Providing executors, trustees, and beneficiaries with access can help them better understand their roles and your explicit desires. Not everyone, however, may be comfortable putting sensitive information online, so, be mindful if you are helping an aging parent who may be skeptical.
4. Estate planning attorney. Storing original documents with an estate planning attorney is another safe option, especially if the attorney helped craft the documents. At a minimum, storing signed back-up copies can offer an added layer of protection from a legal expert with a fiduciary duty to act in your best interest.
Storing crucial legal documents is just one of the many important decisions you will face during the estate planning process. Should you need help developing an estate plan or have any related questions, please feel free to contact our office and schedule a meeting.