An estate plan comprises of important and very private information. It addresses the distribution of one’s assets after death as well as designates people responsible for the management of one’s affairs during the incapacity and after death. As such, typical estate plan contains not only names, addresses, and phone numbers of one’s fiduciaries and beneficiaries but also oftentimes a detailed list of one’s assets, including bank, investment, and retirement account numbers.
Needless to say, an estate plan should be kept in a safe place.
Some attorneys retain clients’ original documents in their office, storing them in a vault or a fireproof file cabinet. Sometimes, clients’ files are stored in an offsite secure storage facility. Oftentimes, there is a cost associated with the storage fees. Many clients however choose to receive and store their original documents.
It is a matter of preference. While the originals stored in the attorney’s office are less likely to be misplaced and accessed by others, it is not unusual for a client to move away and forget to claim their original documents or to forget the name of their attorney. Sometimes, the attorney moves or retires and the owners of the original documents have to be located in order to return the documents to them, which is not always an easy task. Most often, the owner of the document passes and the loved ones are unable to locate the original documents due to lack of sufficient information being available.
Oftentimes, the first instinct is to store the documents in a safe deposit box. However, it presents a major issue – the authority to access the safe deposit box by fiduciaries is typically stated in the documents locked inside the safe deposit box. Consequently, despite a comprehensive estate plan, a court order might be needed to access the safe deposit box. If the documents are placed inside the safe deposit box, then it is imperative that the right to access the safe deposit box by fiduciaries is listed and confirmed with the bank.
Estate planning documents can be securely stored at home if they are placed in a fireproof safe. While such safe is certainly an expense, it provides the most secured option to keep the documents at home and can be used to protect other important documents as well as valuable personal property. If the safe has a key or combination, it should be shared with a trusted person to allow access in case of one’s incapacity or death. If the documents are not kept in a safe, they should be kept in a closed cabinet located high in order to protect it from children, flood, and animals.
A set of hard copies can be stored in a safe deposit box and/or with a trusted fiduciary. A set of electronic copies can also be stored with a trusted person and in a secured location like home safe or safe deposit box. Additionally, electronic copies can be stored online. However, the security of online storage can be questionable.
Most importantly, trusted family members or fiduciaries should know about the existence and location of the estate planning documents. If they do not know it exists, they will not know to look for it. And if they cannot find it, it cannot be used.