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Written by Thomas Upchurch
You’ve gone to the trouble of inventorying your assets, determining who you want to manage your estate and how you’d like your assets distributed, perhaps even appointing a guardian for your children or creating a trust with a successor. Your carefully conceived plan, however, may be only as strong as your storage methods. It may be difficult to believe that your careful organization could be undermined by tucking your documents into the wrong folder. If, however, those documents are lost or destroyed, your family may never know your wishes.
Of course, every estate plan is different, and so the list of documents you need to preserve may differ somewhat. Some of the most common and important documents include:
Some other documents that are not strictly related to estate planning, but should be safeguarded in a similar manner, include:
You may choose to place your will, trust documents, and other important papers in a safe deposit box. That’s a good choice, but you don’t have to go that far to protect your documents in most cases. Some simpler options include a home safe, a lock box, a locked file cabinet or even a locked desk drawer. For an added layer of protection, consider a box, safe, or file cabinet that is fire resistant.
No matter how carefully you store your documents, it’s a smart safeguard to keep a back-up copy readily available. For example, you may keep digital copies of your important documents in an easily identified folder on your home computer. Or, you may choose to store them in the cloud, so that they are protected in the event of a natural disaster, fire, or other destructive event. You may also want to create an envelope of these documents and leave it in the care of a close friend or relative, such as the person you have appointed to administer your estate.
Your natural inclination may be to hide away important personal documents such as your will. While it makes sense to safeguard estate planning documents and other personal and financial information, it’s also important that those you leave behind are easily able to locate these documents and be confident that the documents they have are current and complete.
You need only make a small number of people aware of the location of these documents. For example, you may want to tell the person you have chosen to act as administrator where he or she will find your estate planning documents and other important papers if you pass away or become incapacitated. You may also want to tell your closest family member, such as your spouse or an adult child who lives with you. Finally, if you are working with an estate planning attorney, let the attorney know where your documents are stored and then provide your administrator and/or closest heir with the attorney’s business card.
When you create or update your estate plan with your attorney, discuss your plans for storing documents and ensuring that your administrator or survivors have access to the documents they need. An estate planning attorney who is familiar with the specifics of your estate plan is in the best position to advise you as to which documents you should assemble for your executor and heirs and how best to ensure a smooth transition.