Securely Storing Your Estate Planning Documents

Once you have worked with an attorney to get your estate planning documents in place (your Last Will and Testament, Powers of Attorney, Advance Directives, Trusts, and any other legal documents), it is important to ensure that they are kept in a safe place and accessible to anyone needing to carry out their instructions.  Here are some tips to make sure your documents stay safe and can be easily located:

  1. Make copies and keep them in a separate place from the originals. In an ideal situation, it is best to give copies to relevant people named in the documents. For instance, if you have named your son or daughter as your financial and/or health care agent, give a copy of your Powers of Attorney to your adult child so that he or she can respond quickly as soon as any action on your behalf is required.
  2. Provide written instructions for how to locate your private documents. If you are not comfortable with sharing copies of your documents right away (for instance, if you don’t want anyone else to see your Last Will and Testament prior to your death), provide instructions to the people named in those documents so that they will be able to access the documents after you are gone. Leaving written instructions will make things easy for your loved ones when you are no longer here to guide them.
  3. Keep all your important documents, information, and passwords well-organized. Since financial information and access to your accounts will likely be necessary for your financial agent or the executor of your will to enact your wishes, keep your relevant documents (bank statements, account numbers and passwords, insurance policies, etc.) in a safe place. It can be risky to “put all your eggs in one basket,” so make sure the location is secure.  Alternatively, you can create a document trail or leave a set of clues for a trusted family member to find – but if you plan to be cryptic, do your loved ones a favor by telling them in advance where to start looking.  If they don’t know how to decode your messages they will struggle to find the information they need when they need it.
  4. Invest in a fireproof safe. It may seem like overkill, but keeping your important legal documents and financial records in a safe will help to protect them from disasters like fire or burglary. It will give you easy access whenever you need to refer to them and will provide you with peace of mind knowing that your documents are well-guarded.  If you don’t want to bother with a safe, make sure at least one copy of your documents is stored somewhere outside your home so that they won’t be destroyed in a disaster.
  5. Store original copies of your estate planning documents in a safety deposit box.  Keeping your original documents, especially your Last Will and Testament, in a location other than your home will provide additional protection against fire or theft.  If you are concerned about how your executor will be able to access the documents after your death, be aware that state law provides for recovery of documents and other items stored in the safe deposit box of someone who has passed away.  T.C.A. Section 45-2-905 dictates who is allowed to access the safe deposit box and allows for contingencies such as the death of the sole surviving lessee while still protecting your privacy and ensuring that your documents and belongings do not fall into the wrong hands.
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