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Horizon Elder Law & Estate Planning Blog

Monday, September 21, 2020

Where Do I Store My Estate-Planning Documents?

So, you got your estate-planning documents completed, and now you want to know where to store them. Many people are surprised to hear that one of the worst places to keep your will, trust, power of attorney, and other estate-planning documents is in your safe-deposit box. A California estate planning attorney can discuss your options for places to store your papers.

Options for Storage of Estate-Planning Documents

Talk with your estate planning attorney about how long the office keeps signed originals. You should not expect your lawyer to be the sole caretaker of your documents, particularly if your loved ones do not know which lawyer wrote your papers. Also, you will need to keep other things with your estate planning papers, like marriage certificates, deeds, mortgages, contracts, a list of your assets and debts, account numbers, passwords and PINs, and other essential financial information.

Resist the temptation to hide your will or trust. If you hide it so well that people do not discover it during your lifetime, you cannot expect them to find it after you die. Keep your papers in a logical location where your loved ones can find them when they need to do so. A desk drawer could be a good location. If you place your papers in a locked file cabinet or fire safe, make sure that you give a key or the combination to a trusted loved one.

Safe Deposit Boxes

At the time of your final illness, your loved ones will need quick access to your papers to get your instructions. If someone has a key and authority to access the safe deposit box, they will only be able to get the papers during banking hours, which can be a problem during weekends, holidays, and pandemics.

If none of your close relatives have a key and authority to open your safe deposit box, you will have to get a court order for them to access the box. Even fast-tracked, it can take weeks or longer to get a court order to open the box.

By that time, your funeral could be over, and your carefully-drafted funeral service and burial details could be moot. Your family might have paid for the burial plot where you got interred, without knowing that you already had a prepaid cemetery plot. The funeral service might not be what you wanted.

Safe deposit boxes can be acceptable places to store some keepsakes and other things you or your loved ones will not need to access quickly. You should not put any of these things in a safe deposit box:

  • Will or living trust
  • Health care proxy or medical power of attorney
  • Standard power of attorney
  • Funeral and burial instructions, wishes, and arrangements, like prepaid services and plots
  • Final letters to loved ones
  • Documents that grant permission to someone to open and access the safe deposit box
  • Insurance policies that pay death benefits

You should keep those documents together in a location that you disclose to a trusted friend or relative. Contact us today. Our California estate planning attorneys can review your situation and recommend safe places to store your estate-planning documents.


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