After overcoming the personal reasons that held you back from making an estate plan, you took the plunge, met with a skilled attorney and developed a plan that provides for your loved ones and gives you some peace of mind. The question you have now is what to do with those precious documents.
Wouldn’t it be a tragedy if, after taking the time and energy to make your estate plan, your loved ones were unable to locate your papers when the time comes? If you become critically injured or gravely ill, would your family know where to find your power of attorney or health care proxy documents? When you pass away, will your loved ones have ready access to your will and trust? Meanwhile, if a fire or natural disaster strikes, will your estate plan be safe from destruction?
Safe deposit boxes
Like many in California, you probably have a safe deposit box in your bank. In the box, you have secured your important original documents, such as your birth certificate, marriage license, the deed to your home and other properties, your passport, and valuable heirlooms. However, a safe deposit box is no place for your will or other original estate planning papers that your loved one may need at a moment’s notice.
The reason for keeping your estate planning papers out of your safe deposit box is that the bank will seal the box when you die, and your loved ones may need a court order to get to its contents. You may have a co-signer who can access your safe deposit box. However, this does little good if you are in the hospital on the weekend or in the middle of the night and need an immediate decision about your health care.
In your home
Rather than keeping your documents locked up in a vault, some go to the opposite extreme and leave them in a desk drawer, between the pages of a book or on a shelf somewhere in their home. There are numerous reasons why this may be a bad idea, including:
- Someone could mistake the papers for something else and throw them away.
- You may accidentally shuffle them among other papers and lose track of them.
- The papers could suffer damage if your home ever floods.
- They could be destroyed in the event of a fire.
Estate planning experts recommend securing your documents in a home safe or lockbox that will protect them from fire and water but remain accessible to anyone who needs to get to them. Sharing the combination with loved ones or leaving a spare key in an easy to reach location can allow your loved ones to get to the papers at critical moments. It is also an option to leave copies of your papers with your attorney for safekeeping.