Where Should I Be Storing Legal Documents?

Storing estate plan documents
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Storing a last will and testament safely is a key step in estate planning.

Many would argue the ending is more important than the beginning.

Although a sports team may be ahead early in a game, it does little good if they make many mistakes and eventually lose the game.

The win will go to the other team that finished strong.

For success, athletes must remain consistent in their optimal performance throughout the entire competition.

According to a recent The Herald-Ledger article titled “Aretha Franklin’s will was in her couch. Here’s where to keep yours,” every step of estate planning must be completed with care.

Storing estate plan documents required security steps.
Sharing the combination or extra key with a trusted is important when storing estate planning documents.

Unfortunately, countless examples exist of individuals who had good estate planning intentions but failed to adequately follow through on their wishes.

Aretha Franklin created issues for her loved ones with her estate because she did not store her last will in a secure place or let her family know of its location.

As a result, her sons entered a long estate battle over her various handwritten wills.

Her 2010 last will was located in a locked cabinet, while her 2014 will was found in a spiral notebook in her suburban Detroit home under the couch cushions.


Despite its unusual storage location, the courts validated the last will from the couch.

Paired with difficult-to-decipher handwriting, the location of her estate plan made following her wishes after her death a challenge.

What would have been better options for storing legal documents?

Safe-deposit box.

Although a safe deposit box is secure for various legal documents and paperwork, it may not be the best for estate planning documents.


When you die or become incapacitated, your executor or power of attorney agent will face a significant challenge in accessing your records.


The documents necessary to prove these people have the right to access the box are in the box.

To retrieve the last will from the safety deposit box, a court order may be required.

Should you choose to store your last will in your safe deposit box, add your executor as one who has access to your box on the contract.

At home. 

The problem with the storage location of Aretha Franklin was not the fact it was in her home.

It was the choice of the place in her home.

Keeping the documents in a waterproof and fireproof safe with a key or combination is a good way to protect the documents in your home.

Be sure to give your executor or other trusted individual the combination or duplicate key.

With an attorney.

Some attorneys provide the service of storing spare originals of your estate planning documents.

We do not.

If your attorney does this, be sure to share the name and contact information with your family.

Local court.

The local probate court may accept the last will to be held in advance.

Such is the case in Maryland, where the original can be arranged to be kept in the Register of Wills office.

Only you or an individual authorized by you can retrieve the last will from this office.

Electronic storage.

While storing a last will online can be helpful for access and reference, most states do not recognize electronic wills.

If you do have a digital copy, you will also need to have the original signed copy stored safely somewhere else.

No perfect solution exists for storing a last will.

Even so, the risks can be mitigated by sharing the location and providing access to trusted individuals.

Reference: The Herald-Ledger (July 19, 2023) “Aretha Franklin’s will was in her couch. Here’s where to keep yours.”

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