Storing legal documents in a secure location is necessary.
Some people are meticulously organized.
Others are fairly tidy but have no rhyme or reason for their physical spaces.
Still, others live in complete chaos.
According to a recent The Washington Post article titled “Aretha Franklin’s will was in her couch. Here’s where to keep yours,” some organization system is preferred for storing estate planning documents.
Failing to store your last will and testament in an accessible, secure, and organized manner can lead to complications after you die.
Such was the case with the estate of Aretha Franklin.
Upon her death, no last will was immediately located.
After a time, one last will was found under a couch cushion while another was locked in a cabinet.
Although she recorded her wishes, Franklin failed to share the location of her estate planning documents with her loved ones and executor.
As a result, a long estate battle commenced over the validity of each of these last wills and whether the cabinet or couch plan would be the one governing the distribution of her assets.
This costly court battle could have been avoided if Franklin had only placed her last will in a secure location and let her loved ones know where it was stored.
What are key considerations when storing estate planning documents?
The location should be both secure and relatively accessible.
While a safe deposit box is secure, it is not easily accessible.
Banks typically seal the box after the death of the owner.
The executor will need the last will to access the box and its contents.
Unfortunately, the last will required to authorize opening the box is often stored in the same box.
Quite the dilemma.
If a safe deposit box is your only option, you could give your executor a key to the box and list this individual as another owner.
Many people may choose to keep their estate planning documents at home.
Although this means they are accessible, they may not be secure.
Storing the documents in a personal waterproof and fireproof safe can resolve this issue.
Your executor and loved ones should be given a copy of the key or the combination for the safe.
A trusted individual must access the last will before submitting it to the courts.
This could be risky if you disinherit people or leave them less than anticipated.
They could destroy your will out of spite and in an attempt to inherit a greater portion.
Some estate planning attorneys will store documents or hold copies for their clients.
That is not our practice.
This could prove problematic if the attorney closes the practice or your loved ones do not know the name of your attorney.
Some counties allow the courts to store a last will for a fee.
The document is sealed until you die and can only be released to you or someone you designated.
After you die, the last will is unsealed and becomes a public document during probate.
Storing a will online is also an option in some instances.
Most states do not allow for electronic wills, so your executor will also need the original signed copy.
Data breaches are also a concern when storing documents in the cloud.
In addition to storing your estate plan in a secure location, you may also benefit from creating a letter of instruction.
These letters can be used to share the existence and location of a last will.
Organizing your documents in a binder with a list of important information and contacts will simplify responsibilities for your loved ones.
You can include an inventory of assets and processional advisor names and contact information.
Your plan should be reviewed and updated regularly.
Generally, this should be every three to five years or after major life events.
When you have created a new will, you should destroy the old one.
Even so, your attorney will likely include language about how the new will supersede older versions.
What happens if you do not have a last will?
You will die intestate, and the laws of the state will govern who inherits your property, who administers your estate, and who rears minor children.
A lengthy court battle may be triggered, especially if your estate is large.
By storing your estate plan securely and granting access to trusted individuals, you can simplify estate administration after you die.
Reference: The Washington Post (July 14, 2023) “Aretha Franklin’s will was in her couch. Here’s where to keep yours.”