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  • Writer's pictureJose Roman

Are your estate planning documents safe?

How you store your estate planning documents is just as important as what they say.


By: Jose Roman

So you've done the responsible thing and have protected you and your family's future by making an estate plan. If you get sick or disabled you have people that can make financial and medical decisions for you. You have clearly stated what your end of life wishes are and spoke to your family about your living will. You've spelled out who your beneficiaries are in your will or maybe even have a living trust. Now that you have all these where is the best place to store these documents.

Many people think putting their estate documents in a safety deposit box is the best place to put them. Here is why I disagree with that.

If you’re still alive and need your agent to use their Power of Attorney on your behalf they will be unable to gain access to the document that would allow them to go into the safety deposit box in the first place. Most financial powers of attorney allow your agent to conduct banking on your behalf including accessing safety deposit boxes. For this reason it's best not to store it in a safe deposit box.

Instead, consider making a copy of your Power of Attorney and giving it to your Agent for future use. In Pennsylvania a photocopy or electronically transmitted copy of a Power of Attorney is just as valid as the original. Then you can place the original in a safe deposit box. If for whatever reason your Agent needs access to the original, the copy you've provided them will allow them to access the deposit box.

Healthcare Powers of Attorney and Living Wills are different. Since they do not allow your agent to access your safe deposit box, even with a copy, you may not want to store it there. Instead, here is what you should consider. First, it is always a good idea to provide a copy of your healthcare power of attorney and living will to your primary care doctor. Since this is the doctor most people see more often having these documents on file will reduce any future delays if they are needed. Next, you should keep these documents in a readily accessible area in case of an emergency. If needed they can be taken with you to the hospital or other medical facility and provided just in case they are needed. Consider also providing your healthcare agent with a copy for their records. In the event you can't access them yourself you Agent will be able to do so and provide them to the medical facility for their records.

Finally, there is your Will. Now you may be thinking I can keep this in a safe deposit box right? It's only needed when I pass away and my Power of Attorney can access it. While that sounds logical, it won't work. You see when you pass away your Power of Attorney is no longer valid. At that point all of your accounts, including any safety deposit boxes are frozen. In order to gain access to these, the person you name in your Will as the Executor will have to petition the court for what are called letters testamentary to gain access to a safe deposit box. In order for them to do so they must present an original of your Will to be granted those letters. Without the Will they cannot get the letters and without the letters they wouldn't be able to access the safe deposit box. Unlike the other documents a copy is not sufficient, or if it is there must be a good reason for the copy to be allowed, which will require time and effort convincing a court.

Instead your Will should be stored in a safe and secure area in your home, ideally in a fireproof safe. Fireproof safes are available from most big box stores like Wal-Mart, Target, Office Max, Office Depot, or online from somewhere like Amazon. You should also let your family know where it is for when the time comes for them to access it and provide instructions on how to access it. I think storing all of your estate planning documents in a fireproof safe is the best way to store them. You should also consider storing the deed to any real estate you own, any beneficiary designations for any retirement accounts and any life insurance policies along with their beneficiary designations in the safe as well.

When you decide to estate plan you do so because you care for your family and want them to be taken care of through difficult times. Storing your estate planning documents while of minor importance can mean all the difference to your family members and whether or not your sickness or death is more stressful.

Hope these tips have been useful. Please follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/romanestatelawllc for future blog post updates. If you would like to schedule a free estate planning consultation you can do so at www.romanestatelaw.com/book-online.

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