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Where Should You Keep Your Estate Planning Documents?

So, you just spent a nice chunk of change on your comprehensive estate planning documents, and precious time reviewing them with your attorney and the necessary witnesses. Now what do you do with these valuable pieces of paper. You are holding documents that are by their very nature vulnerable to fires and flood waters. Most of my clients fall into two categories – they are either overly concerned about the documents getting lost, stolen, damaged, or whatever other doom-and-gloom scenario pops into their minds; or they have a laissez-faire attitude about the fate of the documents. Neither is good, and I hope this article helps you land somewhere in the middle.

First, some legal background information may be helpful in understanding why this is an important issue. In Louisiana, if a will exists, it must be filed into the court records in order to distribute the property (a process known as Succession). The will that is filed should be the original will. If the original will is not filed, there is presumption that the original was intentionally destroyed by the decedent, which leads to another presumption – that the will was revoked. So, hopefully, you now see the importance of safeguarding the original will.

Here are some suggestions and related pitfalls regarding the storage of your estate plan documents:

Ask your attorney if he will keep the originals in his office. Then, all you have to do is leave the attorney’s contact information with your family. Often, attorneys will not keep an original due to insurance reasons, but if it is what you as the client want, then you should ask. Additionally, if you are younger than your attorney, then you need to be concerned about his succession plan for his law practice.

If you have another professional advisor – CPA, money manager, etc. – that you consult with regularly and who already keeps a file on you in his office, you may want to ask him to add the original estate plan documents to your file. Be careful to explain to him how important the originals are and get a signed receipt when you leave them.

Rent a safe deposit box at your bank. Banks are great at keeping things safe – especially valuable pieces of paper with numbers on them. If you go this route, please remember to make sure that your family will have access to the safe deposit box. You do not want to be caught in a catch-22 where the court is requesting documents that show who should have access to the box, when the documents are in the box.

Store them in a fireproof lockbox or gun safe in your home. This, in my humble opinion, is the absolute best option. There is no relying on anyone else, and you can evacuate with them for a hurricane without worrying about making an additional stop.

Whichever storage method you choose, you should let your relatives as well as your attorney know where the documents are located.

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