If you have a medical emergency or die unexpectedly, and your estate plan documents can’t be located, your family will be scrambling to give you the assistance you need or to close your final affairs, says AARP’s recent article, entitled “Storing Legal Documents in an Easy-to-Find Place for Family Caregivers.”
Security and accessibility are the two primary factors in making the decision about where to store originals. However, frequently the most secure spot isn’t always the most accessible.
Some attorneys offer to keep the originals of your legal documents for safekeeping. However, this has drawbacks. Your family would have to contact the law firm and obtain the release of the documents.
If you opt to keep your original documents at home, secure them from fire or flood. A fire-rated safe is more protective than a file cabinet. Especially in San Diego, where we have frequent wildfires.
If you lock them up, remember that someone will need to either have a key or know where the key is.
If you decide not to provide copies or originals to your future caregivers and loved ones, tell them where they’ll be able to find the documents, if they need them (and how to access them!).
If you’re reluctant to tell them in advance, leave a letter of instruction for their use if you’re incapacitated or pass away.
Inform your attorney of the location and ask them to note it in your file or perhaps provide a copy of your letter of instruction for them to keep.
If you decide to change the location, let the attorney know.
When you draft new documents, make certain you destroy or discard your now-outdated documents.
Send a notice of revocation to anyone who’s holding copies or originals. If you’ve recorded any of those documents, record the notice of revocation as well. Also, ask that anyone holding copies also destroy or discard the documents in their possession.
You don’t want your loved ones to get delayed in probate court if they can only find a copy of your documents or, even worse, no documents at all.
Organization and dialog are critical to both safeguarding your paperwork and making it easy for your loved ones to use it when the time comes.
Reference: AARP (July 27, 2022) Estate Plan “Storing Legal Documents in an Easy-to-Find Place for Family Caregivers”