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Where to — and Where Not to — Store Estate Planning Documents

Estate Planning, Wills

Floods, fires, earthquakes. Snooping family members, a nosy housekeeper, a destructive puppy. There are many reasons to safeguard your estate planning documents. But with a variety of options for places to store your Will, trust and other important documents, how do you choose the right place?

In deciding where to store your estate planning documents, there are a few things to consider. For instance, an original Will is required if you need to admit the Will for probate under New Jersey law. While there are some instances when a photocopy of a Will is accepted, it requires a court action and an explanation as to why the original Will cannot be submitted. This causes delays, additional expenses and inconvenience in settling the estate.

Where to NOT Store Your Estate Planning Documents

Some of these options may seem to make sense because they are convenient to you, but we have seen that these storage choices have caused problems for clients, heirs and executors:

  • Safe Deposit Box: It may be unwise to store documents in a safe deposit box if you are the only one with access to the box. A court action may be required to access the safe deposit box if you become incapacitated or pass away. Also, access to a safe deposit box could be limited in the event of a natural disaster that damages the bank itself.
  • Desk Drawer, a Box or Regular Filing Cabinet: Whether at home or at work, simply filing these documents away puts them at risk should there be a fire or flood. It also compromises their privacy.

Good Options for Storing Your Estate Planning Documents

Here are some best practices for safeguarding both original and copies of important documents:

  • Estate Planning Attorney: Many of our clients choose to have us retain their original Wills in our firm’s fireproof safe. It is not uncommon for estate planning attorneys to store original versions on-site or offsite in fireproof, secure storage facilities. Whether the documents are at the firm’s office or offsite, estate planning attorneys have systems in place to keep these important files organized and that allow for quick, easy access.
  • Fireproof Safe: If you want to keep your original Will within your control, then invest in a fireproof safe for your home or office. Be sure someone at a different location whom you trust, such as your executor or estate planning attorney, has a copy of the key or the combination.
  • Backup Copies: Wherever you decide to store your original Will and other documents, keep backup copies in a different location that’s easily accessible to you. If your estate planning attorney doesn’t have your original Will, then a fully executed hardcopy should be on file with him or her.
  • Electronic Records: Online cloud storage is a good option for storing copies, but remember that it takes a computer (and electricity) to access those — which may not be available in a natural disaster. Don’t store these documents directly on your computer, as that makes them vulnerable to thieves hacking for personal information or puts them at risk should your computer crash.

Wherever you decide to store your Will and other estate planning documents, as well as critical records like birth, death and marriage certificates, be sure to keep a list of where they are located and how they can be accessed. Share that list with your executor, attorney or other trusted person.

Have questions about preparing and storing your Will and other estate planning documents? Please contact us at 856.782.8450 to set up a consultation.

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