Storing Your Original Estate Planning Documents

Our office is often asked where original estate planning documents—wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and healthcare directives—should be stored for safekeeping. While we generally recommend a fireproof home safe, consider the following:

A home safe
For a home safe to be a good place to store original estate-planning documents, it should be difficult to move (bolted to the floor!), fire-proof and water-proof. In addition, make sure someone you trust has the combination to your safe or can easily gain access to the combination if you become incapacitated or die.

A safe deposit box
Many people may believe the best place to store their original estate planning documents is in their safe deposit box. This might make sense if you have told your spouse or a trusted child, other family member, or friend that it’s there and given them access to your box. However, a safe deposit box is a rental arrangement (you are leasing the box from the bank) and if you are the only one signing the lease and you become incapacitated or die, no one else will be able to open your box. Generally, the only way someone else can gain access to your box if you become incapacitated or die is to obtain a court order, which wastes time and money. If you aren’t comfortable giving someone else access to your box, the bank may allow a revocable living trust to be added as a lessee, providing your successor trustee access to your box if you are unable serve as trustee of your trust.

With your estate planning attorney
In the past, many estate planning attorneys offered to hold their clients’ original estate planning documents for safekeeping (usually without charging a fee). Today most attorneys don’t want to take on the liability or the commitment to hold a will for 40 years. In addition, as time goes by it can be difficult to track down the attorney when the documents are needed—they may have changed firms, relocated, become incapacitated or died.

With your corporate trustee
If you have named a bank or trust company as executor or successor trustee, this might be the best place to store your original estate planning documents. Banks and trust companies have specific procedures in place to ensure that your original documents are stored safely and securely. Be sure to make sure one—or more—of your friends or family members knows where the original documents are located.

Whatever you decide, it’s critical to make sure that family members, friends, and/or a trusted advisor knows where to find them. If the original documents can’t be located, it may be legally presumed that you no longer liked what they said and purposefully destroyed them.