Storage of Original Estate Planning Documents

It is important to keep in mind, as our society is transitioning to storing more and more information digitally rather than maintaining reams of paper documents, that not everything can be effectively digitized and stored in “the cloud.”  This is particularly important when it comes to storing your estate planning documents.  


The original will is necessary to submit to probate.  If an original of the will cannot be located, it is presumed that the decedent revoked the will, and the estate may pass through the laws of intestacy rather than how the decedent wished. There are situations in which, after lengthy and, likely costly, court proceedings, the court may accept a copy of a will, but this is difficult to accomplish.  The original of your will should be kept in a safe location – such as a safe deposit box at the bank or a fireproof/waterproof safe in your home or office.  Information can be provided to the person named as the personal representative where the will can be found at the time of your death.  Many estate planning attorneys offer to keep the original documents in their office, which is another option if you are uncomfortable holding the documents yourself, but they do not HAVE to be kept with your attorney.  Further, it is important to note that you should not execute more than one original will.


Any trust documents should be stored with the will.  You may have copies of the trust documents in an easily accessible location.  Generally, financial institutions will accept copies of trust documents for their records.  If you misplace the original trust documents, they should be re-executed.  


Your power of attorney documents should not be kept in a safe deposit box.  The power of attorney document will need to be easily accessible by your named agent, and gaining access to a safe deposit box can be a complex process if you are not the owner.  In addition, a situation could arise where the power of attorney may be necessary on a weekend, holiday, or after business hours.  This could cause unnecessary delay, which may have unintended repercussions.  Your power of attorney documents may be kept in a safe place in your home, or even with the person you name as your agent.  


Proper storage and safekeeping of your estate planning documents is critical to ensuring that your carefully drafted estate plan is effectively executed.