Where Do I Keep My Estate Plan?
New clients of Legacy Law Center often arrive for our first conference with their existing estate plan documents. More often than not, these documents are out of order and have the look of paper that has never been read. They are sometimes still in envelopes that have never been opened. So we spend the first five minutes of the office unbundling all of these documents to see what these documents say.
A policy at our office is that finished estate plans are always put in binders and every document is tabbed in the binder so that it can be easily found. Part of our final instructions also informs the client where to keep their documents.
Those instructions are always the same. The originals in the binder should always be kept in a safe place, and either locked up or not locked up depending on the client’s preference and circumstances. Some clients want them locked away and that works fine as long as the person named in the document as power of attorney / executor / trustee has a copy and knows how to get the locked up originals.
I am not a huge fan of safe deposit boxes at banks. For one thing, if you need to get those documents in a pinch and it’s after business hours or a Sunday, you’re out of luck. Another issue is the cost. I just don’t think the utility of a safe deposit box is worth the cost. Clients can use safe deposit boxes, however, if they want to. The better bet is to have them tucked away in a safe at home. That will likely be cheaper, still provide security and resolve the issue of obtaining the documents at any time.
At our office, we also give the clients a set of copies and a PDF scan of the signed estate plan. The latter version makes it very easy to get a copy to the people they have chosen to be in charge in the future. All our clients have to do is forward the PDF to them via email or if they prefer, on a thumb drive or CD. Whatever works for them.
We also always advise our clients that they should immediately provide a copy of their signed healthcare power of attorney and healthcare directive to their primary care physician (their “PCP”) and any specialists they see (cardiologist or neurologist for example). A copy of the documents should always be out in a place where it can be grabbed quickly, such as a kitchen drawer or a file in a home office. Finally, we advise clients to put a copy in their car. If you get a call that your spouse has been taken to the hospital and you are at work, all you have to do is drive to the hospital. Bring a copy when you travel as well. Let’s face it, accidents are more likely to happen when you are trying out scuba diving in Aruba than when you are sitting at home reading the paper. So bring powers of attorney documents with you on your trip.
Your documents can be changed at any time as long as you have capacity, so keep in mind if you have a falling out with your executor or your power of attorney that you can put someone else in charge if you change the documents. It’s a very easy process and more affordable than most people assume.
The bottomline is that you should protect your estate plan from prying eyes and being lost by putting them in the place you think is best. If that’s the bank or a drawer at your house, it doesn’t matter. Just make sure you know where they are and that the people in charge of your life if you can’t be have a copy as well. If you do that, you’ll ensure that your estate plan can be followed as you originally intended.