Another frequent question that I'm asked as an estate planning attorney is, "Where should I keep my original estate planning documents?" The answer is really simple - in a safe and accessible place. But what does that mean?
What About Your Safe Deposit Box?
Many people think that their safe deposit box is the best place to store their original estate planning documents. But in many states, if the box is just in your name without any other joint owner, then your family will need a court order to open up the box and remove your estate planning documents. Thus, if you become disabled or after you die, then your loved ones won't have immediate access to your estate plan. In this situation, consider placing the box in the name of your Revocable Living Trust so that the successor trustee of the your trust will be able to gain immediate access to your box, or add a joint owner who you can trust to carry out all of your estate planning wishes.
Other Safe But Readily Accessible Places
Where are some other safe but readily accessible places to store your original estate planning documents? The most logical place is somewhere in your home or office that's protected from fire and floods, such as your very own fire and water-proof safe. But if you do decide to use a personal safe, be sure to let someone you know and trust the combination to the lock. And at a very minimum you should keep your original estate planning documents on a high shelf in your home or office - I lived through Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma and had several clients lose their original estate planning documents because they were stored on the bottom shelf of a bookcase.
Leaving Copies With Your Estate Planning Attorney
Aside from this, your estate planning attorney should retain signed copies of all of your estate planning documents. Then, if the original documents are destoyed inadvertently, your estate planning attorney can recreate your documents and everything can be resigned. Otherwise, if the original documents can't be found at the time of your death, then the presumption will be that you intended to destroy them. If this is the case, then you'll be considered to have died "intestate," meaning without a will or other estate plan, and your assets will pass to your heirs at law through the probate process instead of under the terms of your estate plan.