Estate planning involves, in large part, providing for those that matter most to you. To make sure your plan can accomplish this, you must plan to provide for the security of your estate planning documents. Having a plan that cannot be located can lead to many problematic consequences, such as added expense or the courts distributing your assets in a manner not consistent with your true wishes. To avoid this, make sure not only that you keep your documents in a safe place, but that you communicate the location of your plan, and how to access it, to the people who will need to know.
You've taken the steps you need to secure your family's future by putting an estate plan in place. You've signed all your documents. You've funded all the trusts that are part of your plan. But have you taken the necessary steps to protect your estate planning documents themselves? This step, while easily overlooked, is a very important element to ensuring that your plan is a success and carries out the wishes you've recorded in those documents.
If your original documents are lost or destroyed, the consequences can be incredibly harmful. In most all cases, the law requires your executor to produce the original copy of your will in order to start the probate process. If the original will cannot be found, the court will decide what happens to your assets. If the court receives enough evidence, it may, in some cases, order your estate probated in accordance with the missing will. In many situations, though, the court will view the inability to produce the original will as proof that you intentionally destroyed it, which means that you revoked it. Unless you also created another valid will previously, the court will distribute your assets in accordance with the intestacy laws of your state.
If your plan includes one or more trusts, note that they are not required to be submitted to the courts when you die. Nevertheless, you should make sure that these documents, along with your powers of attorney and living will, are kept someplace completely safe. Most people usually keep all their estate planning documents together in one place, such as a folder or a binder, which makes it easier on them and their estate planning professionals should they need to make changes. This will also be of great benefit to your loved ones and executors/successor trustees after you die.
Some people may choose to maintain a safe deposit box at a bank for their estate planning documents. Others might choose someplace closer to home. If you keep your documents at home, it is important to ensure that they are kept not only protected from theft but also disasters such as fire or flood. Regardless of the location you select, it is important that you communicate this information to the correct people. Whether it is an estate planning attorney who will be handling the probate of your will, or a loved one who will be serving as the successor trustee of your living trust, they will need to be able to find and access your documents promptly. If your documents are secured in a locked location, you might consider providing your successor or estate planning professional with a copy of that key. If you are using a safe deposit box, you may want to complete the necessary forms with your bank to give that person the right to open the box. By taking these pre-planning steps, you can help ensure that you will save your loved ones time, stress and possibly money.