How to store your Estate Plan
Creating a customized and comprehensive Estate Plan is a labor of love…one that requires several visits to a competent attorney, much time spent deciding who to nominate for different roles, discussion of how, when and to whom to distribute your assets, and exploration of other various choices (often ones that you hadn’t thought of before).
At the end of the process, clients leave the office with a big beautiful binder that holds all the legal documents. The binder is also a place to keep miscellaneous documents, like an updated list of accounts, assets, and digital assets, deeds for real estate confirming they have been transferred to the trust, personal letters to family, separate gift list, and other information that will be helpful to the trustee/executor of your estate. The binder obviously is crucial to keep safe (and accessible to the persons who will need to act on the contents).
We give all of our clients advice on where to store their Estate Planning binder.
First, it is a good idea to tell your trustee/executor where you have put the documents. This avoids the issue of family members searching all over the house, only to find documents under the bed, a sofa cushion, or in a random desk drawer after searching for a long time. It is a good idea to keep the documents somewhere in your home since your loved ones would naturally go to the home to search.
Second, we do NOT recommend putting the binder in a safe deposit box. Oftentimes, the documentation needed to prove authority to access the safe deposit box would be IN the safe deposit box, putting your trusted nominees in a quandary of how to get to them. If you do, however, have a fireproof safe, this would be a great place to keep your binder. Please make sure that the safe is either left unlocked or the key is accessible to your trustee/executor.
Third, in this digital age, we make digital copies of all the documents that we execute for our clients. These are transmitted to clients in a variety of ways, depending on their preference, including by secure client portal or USB drive. We also keep the digital copies on our secure cloud.
The last thing we want is for clients to have no trace of their Estate Plan because the original has been destroyed and there are no copies anywhere. This could be due to a natural disaster, a mistake, or bad advice. Unfortunately, this awful situation has been an issue for many people. From my personal experience as an attorney, I met someone who was regrettably advised to throw away the special needs trust she made for her adult son (and did not have any other copies of) and I also had a set of clients whose Estate Plan was destroyed in the 2017 Sonoma fire (and they also did not have any copies). For the latter, thankfully, they were okay and needed significant changes to their Estate Plan anyways so we did a Restatement for them.
Wills and trusts are commonly thought of as paper documents that you sign and put away on a shelf for years. Hopefully, the plan is reviewed every few years or whenever there is a life change, but this may not always happen. Please take the time to let your loved ones know where they can find your plan and put it in a location that they can access.