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Where Should I, or Should I Not, Keep My Estate Planning Documents?

As spring approaches, you may find that you are in the mood to do some spring cleaning and organizing. You decide to tackle your stacks of paper, when lo-and-behold, you find your original estate planning documents! You know that your estate planning documents need to be kept safe, but where should you, or should you not, keep them? In a safe deposit box? In a home safe? Under the mattress? Where is the best place to keep them? 

 


  • Do not keep the originals in a safe deposit box (copies are okay). Banks are never open when you need them to be. Plus, it is a big problem if no one has access to the safe deposit box after the box owner passes away. 

  • Do not hide your documents so well that you cannot remember where you hid them or your family cannot find them.

  • Do keep your documents in a safe and accessible place in your home. But where?

  • If you did estate planning with Rehberg Law Group, you would have received a three-ring binder that we call the "Notebook" and you can place your Notebook in a file cabinet, or even simply on one of your bookcases.

  • As to a home safe, if you decide to keep your Notebook in your home safe, please make sure that it is accessible to the person in charge when they need access to your documents. Please do not leave a note for your Agent stating that you placed the combination to access the safe inside the safe. (You laugh now, but it has happened before.)

  • If you decide to keep your Notebook in a fireproof safe or cabinet, it is a good idea to place your Notebook inside a waterproof bag (a really large Ziplock would work). Fireproof safes are often not waterproof.

  • Some people have suggested that a chest freezer is a great place to store your Notebook because if there is a fire, the seal would melt and seal that freezer tight. Your documents will probably be very pungent by the time you get the chest freezer open, but it should be intact. If you do decide to store your documents in a chest freezer, a few tips: (1) Ziplock first; and (2) when cleaning out the freezer, be very careful that you do not accidentally throw away your Notebook (and yes, it has happened before).

  • Some people have suggested relabeling the spine of the Notebook from "legal documents" to something innocuous such as "family album." Relabeling is fine, just as long as you tell your Agent the new name (because no one will be looking for estate planning documents in a family album).

 

Wherever you decide to store your documents for safekeeping, it is very important that you let your Power of Attorney Agent, Personal Representative, or Trustee know where you placed your originals so that they can be found when they are needed. Also, to put your mind at ease, estate planning documents are not on the top ten list of things a burglar looks for when breaking into a home. In fact, the only times that we know of estate planning documents being stolen are thefts by family members hoping to find out how much money they will inherit.

 


Bonus Tips:

  • Do NOT write on your original estate planning documents!

  • Keep track of to whom you give copies of your estate planning documents. If you replace your documents, you should get your copies back.

 

If it has been over four years since you updated your estate planning documents and you want to review them with an attorney, please call Rehberg Law Group at 206.246.8772 to schedule a check-up appointment. 

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