One of the most common questions I get asked by clients, family, and friends is, “Where should I keep my estate planning documents?” This question is so common in fact that I now spend a moment with my estate planning clients after signing their documents to discuss their options.
I highly recommend that anyone who has gone through the process of planning, crafting, and executing an individualized estate plan, maintain copies of those planning documents in multiple, safe locations. The whole reason you’ve planned in the first place is because you realize that anything can happen at any time and you want to be ready. It wouldn’t make sense to stop the planning here and fail to plan for the potential loss of the documents. For this reason, I often suggest to my clients that multiple copies be kept in multiple locations.
At the Preston Law Firm, our clients’ executed documents are first scanned and a digital copy is saved to our file server; then the original documents along with a CD containing .pdf files (digital copies) of each document are given directly to the client. This CD makes it easy for our clients to distribute and store their planning documents.
However, not all planning documents are kept safe simply by maintaining copies. While a copy of the Durable Power of Attorney, Advanced Healthcare Directive, Living Will, HIPAA Release, or Living Trust carries just as much legal weight as the original document, in Florida, the Will does not. If the original Will cannot be found, Florida courts will presume that it was intentionally revoked pursuant to F.S. 732.506. See In re Washington’s Estate, 56 So.2d 545, 545 (Fla. 1952). Hence, it is very important to keep the original Will safe.
Regarding the protection of the original Will, I am often asked about storing it in a safe-deposit box. Many people choose to go this route. However, I always caution my clients to be careful; I’ve had many heirs come into my office confused as to why they cannot access their parent’s safe-deposit box to retrieve the Will from within. The only way for an individual who is NOT an owner of the safe-deposit box to access that box is to ask the court to grant access. This can be a waste of time and money; often the heir doesn’t want to deal with it because (1) they’re not sure the Will is in the box to begin with, or (2) they may not even be sure that they are a named beneficiary.
While everyone’s situation is different, I often recommend that the original Will be kept in a strong, fire-proof safe in the house. Be sure the safe is able to protect the Will from fire, flood, and other natural disasters. Some clients even choose to bolt the safe to furniture or the floor; personally, I think this is a little overkill for most circumstances, but some situations might warrant the extra step and it is important that YOU feel secure about the safety of your documents. Also, it’s important to make sure that someone knows where the key or what the combination to your safe is!
In summation, it is important to keep multiple copies of your planning documents in multiple locations. We ensure this for you by maintaining a digital copy on our server and providing you with the original documents AND digital copies. Also, it is important to keep the original Will safe; while a safe-deposit box works, I usually recommend a strong, fire-proof safe kept at home due to the potential hassle of dealing with a safe-deposit box. If you have more questions or would like a personal recommendation regarding your particular situation, CLICK HERE to contact us.