In many professions and industries, there are what's called "best practices," or the optimal way of doing things. There are "best practices" in planning your estate, too. These includes getting a well-thought out plan in place without procrastinating, making sure you have a plan to review your estate plan documents in the future for possible changes requiring adjustments in your plan and having a plan for keeping your physical legal documents safe. This plan involves two vital pieces, including picking a proper location and communicating that information to the people who will need to access your documents in the future.
Planning for the security of your estate plan documents is extremely important, although often overlooked. You may think you've done it all. Crossed all the i's. Dotted all the t's. You've gone out, identified your estate planning goals and objectives, obtained a well-thought out set of legal documents that meets those goals and you've even established a plan for giving your estate plan periodic reviews in the future in case any changes are needed.
However, there is one more thing you do as part of your estate planning process, which is making sure that physical, original plan documents are sufficiently safe. As an introductory note, be aware that you should always keep the original copies of each of your estate planning documents, including your will, powers of attorney, living will and any trusts, in your own possession.
There are many options for properly securing your estate plan documents. If you get more peace of mind from having your documents in a secure facility, you should look into a safe deposit box at a bank or other financial institution. On the other hand, if you feel safer with your documents in your home, you should make certain that you store them in a place that is safe from any kind of disaster, such as a fireproof box or a safe. Your documents need to be able withstand disasters that might reasonably befall your home, such as fire damage, wind damage or water damage. Some people even choose to take their estate plan documents and binder, place them in an air-tight, water-tight sealed bag or other container, and store them in their freezer. This options is not as outlandish as it may seem on the surface, because freezers are one of the most fire-resistant containers in any house, and thieves are unlikely to go through your freezer if they break into your home.
Regardless of whether you choose a safe deposit box, a fireproof box, your freezer or some other option, an essential task once you've selected a location and stored your documents is communication. Your need to communicate where you've stored your plan documents with those people you've named in your plan (such as successor trustees, executors, attorneys-in-fact or agents under your living will) who will need to access those documents at some future point. Of course, one person who may need to access these documents in the future is you. You may need, for example, to check your living trust document because you've just bought or sold a car. Whatever the reason, you may want to communicate this location information to a trusted relative, friend or neighbor so that they can help you find your documents if you should forget where you stored them.
Like so many things in estate planning, the key is planning and communication. First, establish a plan for keeping your documents safe and, second, make sure that you've sufficiently communicated that plan to the people who will need this information at some point.