Where should I keep my important estate planning documents?

I generally recommend against keeping important documents in a safe deposit box. In case of an emergency, it is another stop you would have to make in order to get the documents out rather than having them accessible in your home. If someone goes to the hospital late at night or on the weekend, the bank is not likely to be open in order for you to obtain the documents.   Also, if someone dies, you will need a court order to access the box. It does not matter if you are a joint owner on the account. The banks will restrict access to a safe deposit box when one owner dies.   You can obtain an order from the court to obtain access to the box and inventory it with a bank employee, but you will not be able to remove any items from the box.

What happens if there is a flood or fire and my documents are destroyed?

It’s a good idea to keep an inventory of your important papers, and keep it either on line in a secure cloud storage and/or a hard copy in your office or a safe place (it’s fine to keep this inventory in a safe deposit box). We maintain one set of originals of our clients’ estate planning documents, with the exception of the original will, which is returned to the client. If your documents are damaged or destroyed in a flood or fire,   we can help you to re-execute the documents.

If an original will that was in the possession of the testator is lost, depending on the circumstances, a copy of the Will could potentially be admitted to probate. However, this is a very fact-specific situation and is not always guaranteed.

How will my agents or executor find my documents if something happens to me?

It is recommended that you inform your nominated agents and successor agents of the roles you have nominated them for.  We also provide our clients with “document locator” cards to give to your nominated fiduciaries. There is a place on the document locator card for you to fill in the location of your important documents (i.e., “bottom right hand drawer of my desk,” etc.). It also has a line for the name and contact information of your health care agent. You can put the card in your wallet so that your agent can be contacted in an emergency where you might not be able to communicate. The document locator card also contains the firm’s name and number, so that we an be reached by the agent and can transmit copies of documents where authorized by the client and when necessary.

How often should I revise or change my planning documents?

You don’t necessarily need to revise your documents when you change your phone number or move your residence, but you should review your documents every year. Tax season is a good time to pull them out and review them to make sure that they still meet your circumstances. Now that your children are older, is the chosen guardian still the person you want to serve? Has your asset structure changed? Have you moved to another state? Is it time to think about the next step in building an estate plan like implementing a trust? Or has some other life-changing event occurred, like a death, illness, divorce or re-marriage for you or another member of your family? Even if you don’t review your documents every year, a life-changing event is a time when you should take out the documents to make sure they still fit your needs, or whether changes are required. It can help to meet with your lawyer for an hour or so to start the discussion.