How best to store your estate planning documents is a common question. The answer really depends upon your preferences and what you might perceive to be the risks involved. Here are some thoughts on how/where to store your documents. The key to remember is that someone other than you should know what documents you have, where they are (especially the originals), and how to access them when necessary.

Say “no” to a safe deposit box. Do not put the original documents in a safe deposit box because the authority to get into the box may well be in the box. If you die or become incapacitated and no one else has the ability/authority to get into the safe deposit box, they will need a court order to get into the box. This causes expense and delay. Two things that may be very problematic under the circumstances.

Maybe a fireproof safe. You could keep your original documents in a file cabinet in your home or office, but a fireproof safe is a good alternative. Again, however, make sure you are not the only person that knows the combination and the contents.

Keep extra copies. First and foremost here, copies are many times just as valid as the original. Keep that in mind before you start handing out copies of things like a Durable General Power of Attorney. If copies are what you determine are a useful option, you should keep a set of hard copies in another location easily accessible to you. In the past, your attorney may have been willing to keep extra copies. That also become problematic as law firms break up, lawyers die, etc.

Copies in the Cloud. Keep an electronic copy of your estate plan. Not just on your personal computer (remember access? who does/should have your password if you aren’t available?) but also in the cloud. Consider things like Google Drive, Dropbox, etc.

The original is best but not always the end of the story. If the original documents somehow disappear, your family may still be able to use photocopies. For instance, a photocopy of a will is possible to probate but your executor will have to convince the court that they have made a diligent search to find the original which has not turned up and that there is no reason to believe that the absence of the original is because you physically destroyed it as a revocation.

Review is important. Remember to review your documents every few years to make sure the people you have named in them are still alive. You also want to be sure your documents still reflect your wishes about where your property goes after you are gone.

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