We are often asked by our clients what they should do with the estate planning documents that we prepare for them. Obviously, taking the time to create an estate plan is a critical first step; however, deciding what to do with those documents once they are finished is also an important decision. The estate planning attorneys at Fleming & Monroe, PLC take the time to explain what you should do with your estate planning documents to keep them safe and make sure they are accessible when needed.
First, it is important to remember that some of your estate planning documents may be needed during your lifetime in the event of your incapacity, i.e., power of attorney or living will. As a result, it is probably not the best idea to lock your documents up in a safety deposit box. Locking your documents in a safety deposit box can potentially create a serious problem. To illustrate, if your Durable Financial Power of Attorney is in a safety deposit box and you happen to become incapacitated, potentially the only person who would have the legal authority to access the box is the person you have nominated as your financial agent; however, the only way to determine the identity of your agent is to access your estate planning documents. Hence the problem – without a copy of your Durable Financial Power of Attorney, your agent cannot prove to the bank that he/she is your agent.
To avoid this problem, it is our opinion that certain estate planning documents are best shared with specific people. A copy of your Last Will & Testament, for example, should be given to the person you named as the personal representative of your estate (including anyone named as a successor personal representative). Copies of any powers of attorney should be shared with the person you have nominated to serve as your agent. You may also choose to share copies with loved ones, although it is certainly not necessary. Likewise, if you have included a trust agreement in your estate plan, a copy of that agreement should be shared with the trustee, and any successor trustees named in the trust agreement.
As provided above, keeping your own copies of your estate plan in a safety deposit box is not the best idea. However, we recommend that you should keep them in a fireproof safe at your home as long as at least one other person has a key or knows the combination. Regardless of where you keep them within your home, it is always best to keep them all together and clearly identifiable. Remember, when the time comes that these documents are needed, your loved ones will already be going through a very difficult time, and having to look all over the house for important estate planning documents when they are already under considerable emotional stress is an unnecessary burden that can be easily avoided.
For more information about either creating an estate plan or what to do with your estate plan once it is completed, contact the attorneys at Fleming & Monroe, PLC today to schedule a free consultation.