People should store their legal documents in a secure place.
Not everyone secures their valuables.
Some people stash cash in their sock or underwear drawers.
Others keep their important papers like social security cards and birth certificates on a shelf.
Although these may work for a time, they also leave your money and important information easily accessible to anyone or vulnerable to fire or flood.
According to a recent AARP article titled “Storing Legal Documents in an Easy-to-Find Place for Family Caregivers,” it is important to store legal documents in a safe but accessible location.
The factors of security and access are often inversely related.
If a storage place is fully secure, it is likely not accessible.
If the location is easily accessible, it is likely not secure.
You will need to find a “sweet spot” between the two.
Although some attorneys offer to store the original documents, the responsibility of securing the estate plan usually rests with the individuals for whom the plans were created.
We do not offer this service in our estate planning practice, but if your attorney does, your agents will need to know this take appropriate action for access to your plan in the event of your incapacity or death.
When storing your documents at your house, you will find more protection from a fireproof safe than a safety cabinet.
Safes usually require a key or a combination.
You will need to share the location of the documents and provide the combination or the key with your agents.
What happens if you do not want your loved ones to have full access to the safe before they need to access your estate planning documents?
You could leave a “letter of instruction” either directly to your loved ones or to the attorney.
It may be helpful for you to share where you chose to store your documents with your attorney as well as with your family.
Update your attorney and loved ones if you change the location or combinations.
If you review and revise your estate plan, safely dispose of the previous plan and send a note of revocation to anyone holding a copy.
Although estate planning allows you to provide directions to your loved ones regarding your potential incapacity and eventual death, this does little good if the estate plan cannot be found.
When people do not store their estate planning documents appropriately or communicate with loved ones clearly, emergency medical decisions get delayed and estate distributions may not be made as intended.
Unfortunately, this simple failure to store and communicate can lead to family feuds and litigation.
Reference: AARP (July 27, 2022) “Storing Legal Documents in an Easy-to-Find Place for Family Caregivers”