Creating an estate plan is one of the most important things you will ever do, for yourself and for your loved ones. Once you have a plan in place, however, you need to make sure the documents that comprise that plan are properly stored and accessible to those who may need them. To help make sure your estate plan works as intended, the Vero Beach estate planning lawyers at Kulas & Crawford explain where you should keep your estate planning documents.
Common Estate Plan Documents
A comprehensive estate plan should be tailored to your individual needs and goals. There are, however, some common documents that may be included in your estate plan, including:
- A Last Will and Testament
- A Trust agreement
- A Power of attorney
- Life insurance policies
- Retirement plan accounts
- Advance directives
Understanding How Your Estate Planning Documents Work
Deciding how and where to store your estate planning documents requires you to understand when and how they will be used. In the event of your death, your estate needs to go through the legal process known as “probate.” Probate serves numerous purposes, including authenticating your Last Will and Testament. In your Will you appointed someone to be the Executor of your estate. That person is responsible for overseeing the probate process. To perform that job however, your Executor must first be officially appointed by the court and issued Letters Testamentary that provide the required authority to act on behalf of the estate. An original copy of your Will must be submitted to the court to initiate probate; however, if your Will is in your safety deposit box it presents a problem. The bank won’t allow access to the box without proof that the individual seeking access is the Executor of your estate – proof that can only be obtained by submitting the Will (that’s inside the safety deposit box) to the court.
The same problem could arise if you used a trust as your primary method of asset distribution in your estate plan. The Trustee named in the trust agreement may need access to the original trust agreement locked in the safety deposit box and inaccessible to the Trustee. Life insurance policies and retirement plan documents may be equally problematic if they are not immediately accessible. This can be especially frustrating because beneficiaries may need the funds from those accounts to pay for your funeral and burial or just to cover basic living expenses.
If you become incapacitated, the advance directives you executed will also not work as intended if your health care agent and your treating physicians do not have the documents that express your wishes. Likewise, a power of attorney and/or trust intended to shift control of assets to a chosen loved one if you become incapacitated will only work if that person has the documents necessary to step in and exert control.
Where to Keep Your Documents
Your first thought may be to keep all your documents together in your existing safety deposit box where you likely keep other valuable items and documents. The problem with putting estate planning documents in a safety deposit box is that an original copy (meaning one with an original ink signature) is often necessary for the document to be accepted and work as you intended. That makes your safety deposit box an impractical option.
Instead, create several sets of original documents and have your estate planning attorney keep one set, keep another set at home in a fireproof safe, and give a third set to a trusted family member. You should also provide an original copy of the relevant document(s) to anyone named to a fiduciary position within your plan. For example, your Executor should get an original copy of your Will, a Trustee an original copy of a trust agreement, and an Agent should have an original copy of a power of attorney or advanced directive.
Contact Vero Beach Estate Planning Lawyers
For additional information and assistance, please FREE estate planning worksheet. If you have specific questions about estate planning please contact the experienced Vero Beach estate planning lawyers at Kulas & Crawford by calling (772) 398-0720 to schedule an appointment.