Estate Planning Tip: Avoid placing your estate planning documents in a safe deposit box…

Whenever I complete an estate plan for a client, I usually conclude by reviewing the best way to maintain the estate planning documents and where to put them.  Often clients will ask whether a safe deposit box is a good choice for storing the documents.  The answer, in my opinion is usually no.

Here’s why:

When a person dies, there safe deposit box can no longer obviously be accessed by them and so the question becomes, who can access the box and how.  Who can access the box depends on who is on title to access the box.  If the box is held by the individual who died, you will likely need a court order to get into the box, because, ironically, the documents that would prove your ability to access the documents (being the executor in a will for example) are in the box.  

Avoid this conundrum.  Place the estate plan in a place that has some security (maybe a lock box at your house) but which can easily be accessed in a pinch.  Emergencies do not happen during regular banking hours, so the ability to get the documents quickly, in my view, is the most important thing to consider first.  If security is not a huge concern, I recommend a minimally fireproof but very light plastic briefcase, similar to this one:

Cases like this give you the best of both worlds, fire and water proof but light and portable.

Now, if you have a situation where you are concerned that a beneficiary or other family member or friend may attempt to alter, destroy or misplace your documents, you should be wary of this and put the documents in a place where you know they will be safe.  If that’s the safe deposit box, then fine.  Just be sure to let your successor trustee or the executor know where the documents are, because another problem that can pop up, especially among elderly widows and widowers is that no one knows where they have kept anything.  Communication with those you trust is key.

In the final analysis, where to store your documents becomes a trade-off between security and accessibility.  Find the right balance which is particular to your circumstances.
Safe Deposit Box