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Estate Planning – Where should I keep my documents after they are signed?


This week I want to answer a question that I get asked periodically by clients after they sign their documents.

I’ve discussed here many times the importance of  the creating a well crafted estate plan. Advance planning allows a person to select the agents that can make necessary decisions and the documents can provide directions as to the manner in which a persons affairs are to be handled.

You might think that once the estate planning documents are finalized and signed that your job is over. Take caution however, as it is important to keep and store the documents in a secure location. Don’t forget to also tell a trusted family member or other individual where these papers can be found, if needed. Very often a person puts these papers in a bureau drawer, or in a box under their bed,  or in some other place where they may either not be easily located or may be unknowingly disposed of. This isn’t a great idea as you don’t want your family ransacking your home to look for the documents if they should need them.  Using a fireproof home safe box or a secure business filing cabinet is much more convenient and accessible. I would also advise that the documents be kept in a location in your home not prone to flooding, mold, insects, or excessive heat or cold. You can get a safe similar to the one shown in the photo above for about $50.00 at any office supply or big box retail store. Some people ask me about keeping the documents in a bank safe-deposit box. This can work but only if there is another trusted family member who has access to the box and who knows that your documents are contained there.  Otherwise, your family members could have to petition a court to gain access to the safe deposit box, and time is not usually a plentiful resource when those documents need to be used.

There is a provision of the law, namely SCPA 1407 which deals with the situation where a Last Will and Testament is presumed to be lost. There are LIMITED situations when a conformed copy can be admitted to probate but the court may not allow this if the testator just took the original will home and it now can’t be located.

Many clients do ask for me to keep their original, which is fine and I am happy to do so in my fireproof office safe, but note that this may make it more difficult  to revoke the will should you need to do so in an emergency situation.

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