Storing estate planning documents requires thoughtful attention.
You have created an estate plan.
This is good.
You have done more than many of your peers.
Okay, feel free to pat yourself on the back.
But wait, not so fast.
According to a recent The News-Enterprise article titled “Give thought to storing your estate papers,” this planning is for naught if loved ones cannot find the paperwork.
Consider what would happen if you suddenly fell ill or were injured and taken to the hospital.
Would your children or spouse know where to find your General Durable Power of Attorney, Health Care Power of Attorney, or Health Care Treatment Directive?
If the answer is “no” (or a less than confident “yes”), then your loved ones may be limited in the support they can provide.
How can you ensure your loved ones have access to your essential estate planning documents?
You will need to put thought and care into storing the documents.
First, your estate planning paperwork should be stored in a singular location in a waterproof and fireproof container.
The location of this container should be provided to the fiduciaries.
Does a safe deposit box work?
Unfortunately, this is not a great idea.
If your fiduciaries are not named on the deposit box account, they will not be able to access the contents of the deposit box.
Perhaps you granted such access to them in your General Durable Power of Attorney.
With your General Durable Power of Attorney in the safety deposit box, your designated attorney in fact (agent) will not be able to prove you have given them access.
In other words, the very proof you need for access will be inaccessible.
Additional issues with access could occur even with a fiduciary listed on your account if the emergency happens on a holiday or after business hours.
Your loved ones will be forced to wait hours or days.
Finally, if you are not just incapacitated but are deceased, then the very of the authority granted under the General Durable Power of Attorney is of no use.
The authority given to the attorney in fact ceases upon the death of the principal.
A better option would be to store a well-organized binder in a protective container at home.
However, some documents (or at least copies) should be supplied in advance to certain offices or agencies.
Along with your health care agent, providing your doctor or other health care providers with your Advance Medical Directive and Health Care Power of Attorney to make copies and include in your medical records can ensure they are accessible when needed.
The General Durable Power of Attorney document should also be provided to your financial institutions.
This should be done before they are needed because power of attorney documents often must be reviewed by bank attorneys before being approved by the institution.
The review process can take weeks.
In fact some institutions even want their own in-house power of attorney documents executed regarding transactions with the institution.
Some states and counties allow for a Durable General Powers of Attorney to be filed with the office of the county clerk.
If the terms of this document change, the document will need to be updated at the courts.
Your agents and fiduciaries should also be given a copies of these documents.
Although a last will and testament is not effective until after the testator has died, it should be stored safely at home as well.
If you do not yet have estate planning documents prepared and ready for storing, work with an experienced estate planning attorney to create a plan to meet your needs.
Reference: The Times-Enterprise (June 11, 2022) “Give thought to storing your estate papers”