After clients have executed all their estate planning documents, a couple of the most common questions we receive are:
“Where do I keep them?” and “Should I give a copy of all of this to my family?”
These seem like innocuous questions, but there are important issues to consider.
Where do I keep my estate planning documents?
When you leave our office after signing your documents, you will have a folder containing two originals of all documents you just signed except your will. (You will have an original and a copy of your will.)
FIRST SET WITH THE ORIGINAL WILL
We recommend that one set including the original will be placed in a secure location, such as:
Safe Deposit Box
This is a common place to store the original documents. However, if you are the only owner on the box, your family will not be able to access it without a court order.
Therefore, we recommend that you add a family member or trusted friend as an authorized signer on the box. Even if your spouse is a co-owner, we recommend listing a third signer in the event you and your spouse are both involved in an accident.
Some banks will allow a box to be titled in your trust name; this would allow any successor Trustee to access the box following your death.
Home Safe or Vault
The same issue with access may arise here. Make sure that someone you trust knows the combination or how to access it. Also, your safe should be fireproof and waterproof.
We Can Store the Key or Combination for You
Some clients give us a safe deposit box key, safe key, or safe combination in a sealed envelope, which we keep in our firm vault until contacted by someone authorized by you, with evidence that you are deceased or unavailable. We do not charge for this service.
SECOND SET WITH A COPY OF THE WILL
The second set of documents should be kept in a safe but easily accessible location in your home, such as a desk drawer or file cabinet. Let your primary personal representative/trustee other than your spouse know where to locate them.
Emergencies almost never seem to happen during banking hours, and you want your family to be able to get to you as quickly as possible rather than dealing with bank red tape.
Who should get a copy of my estate planning documents?
This question is a bit more difficult depending on your family dynamics.
Some people are very private and don’t want their family knowing their personal business until it’s necessary. Others want to give their family copies of the documents so everything is “out in the open” and they don’t need to “worry about it anymore.
You know your family better than we do, but here are our general recommendations:
We do not usually recommend giving anyone copies of the documents unless it’s medically necessary. There may come a time when you wish to change some of the provisions in those documents. Getting the copies back may be difficult, and if changes are made to beneficiaries, feelings may be hurt.
We do, however, recommend letting your family know you have seen an attorney and created the documents for when the need arises. You may find that your family is relieved to discover this situation. As discussed above, tell your primary personal representative/agent where to find the documents.
We recommend bringing an original of your Living Will/Designation of Health Care Surrogate to your first appointment with your primary care doctor after the document has been signed. They should make a copy of the original, put the copy in your file, and return the original to you. You may also find it helpful to bring a copy with you to the hospital when having outpatient surgery.
We also recommend completing our firm’s Vital Information Workbook. It will assist your family in locating your important papers, identifying your assets, and your liabilities after you’ve passed away. You will receive one of these workbooks as part of your estate planning packet, or you may download it here. The original should be kept with one of the sets of your documents.
If you still have questions about storing your documents or informing your family, please don’t hesitate to reach out to the Marks Gray Estate Planning Team.