A Twin Cities Estate Planning Attorney Explains How to Store Your Estate Planning Documents
In the unsettled time after a loved one’s death, imagine the added stress on the family if the loved one died without a will or any instructions on distributing his or her assets. Now, imagine the even greater stress to grieving survivors if they know a will exists but they cannot find it! It is not enough to prepare a will and other estate planning documents like trusts, health care directives and powers of attorney. To ensure that your family clearly understands your wishes after death, you must also take good care to preserve and protect all of your estate planning documents.
Did you know that the original, signed version of your will is the only valid version? If your original signed will cannot be found, the probate court may assume that you intended to revoke your will. If the probate court makes that decision, then your assets will be distributed as if you never had a will in the first place.
Where should you keep your original signed will? There are several safe options – the best choice for you depends on your personal circumstances.
Keep it at home
You can keep your will at home, in a fireproof safe. This is the lowest-cost option, since all you need to do is purchase a well-constructed fireproof document safe. Also, keeping your will at home gives you easy access in case you want to make changes to the document. There are two main disadvantages to keeping your will at home:
You may neglect to return your will to the safe after reviewing it at home, which increases the risk it will be destroyed by fire, flood, or someone’s intentional or accidental actions.
Your will could be difficult to find in the event of your death, unless you give clear instructions to several people on how to find it, which then creates a risk of privacy invasion.
Safe deposit box
You can keep your will in a safety deposit box. Most banks have safety deposit boxes of various sizes available to rent for a monthly fee. Banks, of course, tend to be more secure than private homes, which is one primary advantage. Also, if you keep your will in a safety deposit box, then after your death, only the Executor of your estate may access the original will. Thus, the will is strongly protected against alteration or destruction, because family members may have access to a copy but only the Executor will have access to the all-important original.
If you do keep your will and other estate planning documents in a safety deposit box, try to do so at the same bank where you keep your accounts and inform your executor of its location. This will streamline the financial accounting process.
Clients of Unique Estate Law have the option to store their documents online using Legal Vault. If you enroll in Legal Vault, you will receive a wallet card that shows you have executed a valid medical directive. The card also provides hospital personnel with a username and password that will allow them to access your medical directive and other medical information (as stored by you) in order to immediately notify your medical agent.
Further, you may store all of your estate planning documents online with Legal Vault and provide someone with postmortem access. This means that another will have full access to any documents you have uploaded to the site if anything happens to you. Your surviviors will not have to wonder whether you executed a will, or any other estate planning documents. But, keep in mind that online storage “safes” may be an excellent back-up, but you must still find a secure place to store the paper originals.
Store your will with the county
By law, Minnesota courts provide a service allowing you to store your will with them for a nominal fee (the current fee for Hennepin County is $27.00). After death, your surviving family may obtain the will from the county by providing proof of death. This is a great way to store the will that can provide you with inexpensive peace of mind.
Some of my senior clients have a trusted child hold their estate planning documents. Generally, they choose the child who is acting as their medical or financial agent to ensure that the proper person has the documents when needed. It is also common for people to store documents in a freezer bag in the freezer. While I don't recommend this approach, it can work so long as someone knows where they are located.
As you can see, there are many different choices when it comes to storing your estate planning documents. The most important thing to remember is that your survivors must know you have estate planning documents and where you stored them. Please be sure to tell important people that you drafted a plan.