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Where Should Clients Keep Estate Planning Documents?

People are often aware of how important it is to have complete and up-to-date estate planning documents but may not realize that where those documents are stored can be just as important and can greatly help (or hurt, if they are not stored properly).

Estate planning documents are to be used in the event of one’s incapacity and at their death. It’s crucial that those named to serve in those documents know that the documents exist, where they are located, and how to access them. The original documents will be of little use if they can’t be located. A beneficiary named in a will may be out of luck if the original will cannot be found, and some states may make this more challenging than others. In Virginia, for example, the law presumes that if an original will cannot be located, the creator of the will destroyed it with the intent that it be revoked. Trying to admit a photocopy of a will to probate can be expensive and time consuming, and this copy may not end up being accepted.

Here are some tips for proper storage of estate planning documents:

1. Store original estate planning documents, and any other important legal documents (deeds, life insurance policies, etc.), in a safe, secure and logical location.

Documents may be stored in a waterproof and fire-resistant safe, in a file cabinet at home, or in a safe deposit box at the bank. Don’t store documents in places where they could be damaged or lost, such as in a car, freezer, a basement prone to flooding, or in one of a stack of boxes in your garage. It’s best to help your family members and loved ones by storing these documents in a logical location.

2. Ensure that others will be able to access the documents in the event of death or incapacity.

If your documents are kept in a safe at home, be sure to have extra copies of the keys or combinations to this safe. If your documents are in a safe deposit box instead, make sure to make arrangements with the bank to allow a trusted family member or friend to access these documents in the case of your incapacity or death.

3. Tell the individuals named in estate planning documents where you’re keeping the originals and how they may access them.

It’s best to write down these instructions so that they will not be forgotten. Make sure that named agents and the executor have the combination or a copy of the key if documents are stored in a safe. If the documents are instead in a safe deposit box, make sure these individuals know the box number as well as the address of the correct bank branch where the box is located. If these documents are moved, let your loved ones know about the change of location immediately.

4. To avoid confusion, shred any old, revoked estate planning documents.

Finally, only keep current estate planning documents to avoid outdated ones being found and creating confusion or opportunities for loved ones to attempt to use an outdated will, POA, or other document.

For help with your estate plan, contact us at Wilson and Wilson Estate Planning and Elder Law, LLC at 708 482 7090 for our main office in LaGrange, Illinois or at 847 656 8958 for our Northbrook, Illinois office.

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