Natural disasters, such as hurricanes along the Gulf Coast and wildfires in the West, offer an important reminder that is fundamental to estate planning, which is that planning involves preparing for (and guarding against) the worst possible outcomes. One of these types of preparations is to ensure the safety and well-being of your estate planning legal documents themselves, whether in hard-copy or electronic form. With the proper planning steps, you can make sure that your documents are safe, and are accessible to the people who will need them in the event of your incapacity or death.
Hurricane Harvey in Texas dumped so much rain that the Washington Post declared it to be the “most extreme rain event in U.S. history.” Hurricane Irma inflicted massive damage upon the state of Florida. While the East dealt with hurricanes, wildfires ravaged in the Western United States. These natural disasters have harmed many people and they should also stand as an important lesson, regardless of where you live. A natural disaster can strike at almost any time and any place, and it is vitally important to be prepared.
One way to prepare is to ensure that your vital documents are protected. In addition to other papers like passports, birth certificates and insurance policies, you'll definitely want to make certain that your estate planning documents are among your collection of essential papers that you protect.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has several tips for Americans across the country when it comes to protecting critical documents. With regard to the hard-copy versions of your documents, they need to be stored some place same from fire as well as water. If you have a fire and water-proof container like a safe, that would be a place to use or, if you don't have a safe but a trusted friend or relative does, you could possibly store your documents with them. Alternately, bank safe deposit boxes may be a useful destination for your documents that will keep them safe.
For electronic versions of your documents, it is often beneficial to consider password-encrypting your documents and storing them on a flash drive or other removable hard drive. Then, you'd just need to keep that flash drive or hard drive in some place safe from fire and water, just like your hard-copy documents.
A key thing to keep in mind with both your hard-copy and your electronic-copy documents is ensuring access to them. Because this set of documents will include your will, living trust and powers of attorney, it is essential that the people you've designated to act on behalf of you, your trust or your estate have the knowledge and the permission they need to access those documents in the event of your incapacity or death. If you prefer a bank safe deposit box, you need to have careful and detailed conversations before selecting a bank, to make certain that the bank you choose will allow your attorneys-in-fact, successor trustees or executor of your estate to access that box and your documents when the time comes for them to do so.
As far as electronic files go, it is important that you give your attorneys-in-fact, successor trustees and executor of your estate the password information they'll need to access your files. Should you decide to store electronic files using cloud storage, it is equally important to make sure that those people have the user ID and password information they will need to carry out the tasks you've asked them to undertake.