You’ve finished your estate plan. All the documents are signed. Now what? Where do you actually store your Last Will and Testament and other estate planning documents? The simple answer is to store them in an accessible, safe place which will vary for every person. As you plan your estate, here are some common storage locations for estate planning< documents as well as the pros and cons for each location.
Safe Deposit Box
A safe deposit box at a federally insured bank certainly provides a safe place for your will and other estate planning documents but may not be accessible to loved ones after your death. Many states have laws regarding who and when a person may access a safe deposit box after the owner’s death—as well as the necessary documentation to retrieve the safe deposit box’s contents. Some states seal a box after the owner’s death, requiring a court order to access its contents, which can be costly and delay the execution of your estate. If you decide to store your will in a safe deposit box, ensure your executor knows the location of the safe deposit box and has the legal authority to access the box after your death. Many people choose to store a copy of their will in a safe deposit box with other valuables, but it may not be the best place for the only copy.
In Your Home
Many people commonly store their estate planning documents in their home or home office. This makes documents accessible, but not necessarily safe. If you choose to store your will in your home, keep it in a safe that is both waterproof, fireproof and bolted securely to the floor. If the safe has a combination or key, make sure your executor knows the access code or keeps a spare key to the safe.
With Your Executor
After your death, your executor needs immediate access to your will and other estate planning documents to begin the estate settlement process. Ideally, your executor should already know you have chosen them to act as your representative and is a trustworthy individual with whom you feel comfortable giving your original estate planning documents. If your executor is a personal friend or family member, you should make sure they can safely store and protect your documents.
With Your Attorney
Storing your estate planning documents with the estate planning attorney who drafted them is most likely the safest and most accessible location for your will. Even if you keep the originals in a separate location, your estate planning attorney should keep signed copies of your estate planning documents. In the event the originals are misplaced or destroyed, the attorney can recreate the estate planning documents for you to sign. When you choose your executor, make sure they are aware your attorney is holding your estate planning documents.
What Happens If No One Can Find My Will?
Resist the temptation to try and “hide” your will; it is meant to be found. If your executor or loved ones cannot find your estate planning documents after your death, they may as well not exist. The court would act as though you died intestate—or without a will in place—and your wishes for the distribution of your assets and property may not come to pass.
The most important thing when deciding where to keep your will is to ensure your executor knows where to find it and can access it in a timely fashion.