1. Money
Julie Garber

What Happens if Your Family Can't Find Your Estate Planning Documents?

By April 6, 2010

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A series of questions posted on the "Money Talk" section of latimes.com regarding a missing Revocable Living Trust agreement caught my eye:

"Dear Liz: My 82-year-old father, who is in a nursing home after multiple strokes, had always told me that he set up a revocable living trust for himself and my mom. I've been going through his papers and can find only unsigned copies of his trust. My dad now suffers from some dementia, and my mom knows nothing about where he might have put a copy of the trust. I do not think a lawyer was involved. I am worried about what will happen when my dad dies. Are revocable living trusts recorded somewhere? If so, how do I find his? Can my mom set up a new trust? They don't have a lot of assets -- just a house and car -- so am I worrying needlessly?"

As Liz Pulliam Weston so candidly points out, a Revocable Living Trust isn't required to be filed anywhere and an unsigned copy is pretty much useless. To make matters worse, Dad certainly can't sign a new trust agreement if he's mentally incapacitated and Mom won't be able to set up a new trust all by herself as long as Dad is still living.

The moral of the story - make sure someone you trust knows where all of your important documents, including your estate planning documents, are being stored and knows who to contact if you become mentally incapacitated or die. If you don't do this, then your loved ones will spend thousands of dollars on legal fees to sort out your affairs during a difficult time.

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