Storing Your Estate Planning Documents

safe deposit box for estate planning documentsYou should know what you own, how you own it and what you plan to give to whom. Keep your notes in a safe place. You'll need them as you and your attorney decide which estate planning tools - wills, trusts or others - you want to use to pass on your assets.

This is the perfect time to decide on a safe place to store all your estate-planning documents. Gathering necessary paperwork in one location will save your loved ones an irritating game of "find the forms" after your death. You may choose a bank safe-deposit box, an office filing cabinet or a fireproof lock box you keep in your bedroom closet. What matters is that your heirs know where they can find the appropriate estate information -important documents, including your will, birth certificate, marriage certificate, stock certificates, etc.

Lock box
The lock box is just right if you want your documents immediately at hand and under your careful watch. This is an understandable perspective. Be aware, though, that this box, which is in your house, stands the same chance of disappearing in the event of a burglary as, say, your computer or jewelry. Your important, possibly irreplaceable, original documents would be gone.

Safe-deposit box
The safe-deposit box has the appeal of being safer from fire and burglary, but it is not so easily accessed as the lock box in the closet. It only takes a quick trip to the bank to deposit or remove items from the box, but there's more to it than that. In the event of a person's death, the law requires a very specific way of handling the entry into a safe-deposit box by family members or anyone else who seeks access to the items inside. If the box was rented in the names of a husband and wife, the surviving spouse is generally granted unrestricted access to the box. Or if the next of kin needs to search the box for a will or burial instructions, the bank allows access upon presentation of a death certificate. Otherwise, the bank is obliged to bar access.

One important reminder

A living will is an expression of your desire not to receive extraordinary medical treatment if your medical condition appears hopeless. It is your decision to make one or not. However, do not keep your living will in a safe deposit box. Make several copies of the original to give family members, and keep the original in a safe but an easily accessible place. Tell others where you put the original in case it is needed. A living will is not a document that disposes of your property and should remain easily accessible.

In conclusion, there is no "best" place to store your estate planning documents. However, no matter where the documents are stored, the most important issue is to make sure that those who will need the documents know where they are and can get access to them in case of an emergency.


WITH A SATELLITE OFFICE IN PANGUITCH. Jeffery J. McKenna is a local attorney serving clients in Utah, Nevada, and Arizona. He is a shareholder at the law firm of Barney McKenna and Olmstead. He is a founding member and former President of the Southern Utah Estate Planning Council. If you have questions regarding this article or if you have a topic you wish to have addressed in this column, you can call 435 628-1711.