Keeping Your Estate Planning Documents Safe

If you want to set all your affairs in order, or if you already have your estate plan lined up, you need to make sure that such well-laid plans are preserved, even in the event of a disaster. Here then are some tips on what documents need to go where in order to keep them safe from earthquake, flood, fire, hurricane, or tornado. Ideally, you will at the least have your entire estate plan in one place, and then a complete copy of this stored in another location. Typically speaking, you have six different places to safely store some of these documents:

  • Your wallet
  • A safe deposit box
  • A home box
  • With an out-of-town friend or family member
  • Online
  • With an attorney

Beyond estate planning documents, you will also want to safely store birth certificates, Social Security cards, title deeds, contracts, financial records, and more in the above safe places. Of course, there is only so much that you can do with your wallet. But an insurance card, military ID, or a driver's license, for instance, plus other identifying information (family pictures) can ensure that important information can easily be found, and also given to your family.

If you want to invest in a safe deposit box, you may be able to rent one for a low yearly fee. The box will even be big enough to guard valuable such as jewelry, and the box can withstand almost any type of disaster. Access is a difficulty, however, because you may not always be able to get to the documents quickly or regularly. And there is one major restriction on how you use a safe deposit box: NEVER put the original copy of your will in there. The deposit box could "sealed" when you pass away, so only a copy of the will should go in there.

If you need to get to your documents regularly, a home box is a particularly appealing option. It needs to be fireproof, lightweight so that you can carry it, and it must lock. Store the documents in sealable plastic bags to keep them safe from water. You can also keep the key to any safe deposit box in there. There are downsides, of course, because this box can be burglarized, and you would not be able to reach the box if your house was off-limits or destroyed when you were on a trip.

A trusted friend or relative who does not live in your region (who is exempt from a hurricane or tornado that could descend on your house, for example) can keep your documents, instructions, a safe deposit box key and inventory, and your attorney and executor's contact information.

As for some of your digital options, you might think about:

  • Keeping vital contact information into a cellphone
  • Scanning documents to a computer
  • Uploading them to online storage
  • Storing documents on a USB flash drive (or thumb drive)

It is often advisable to work with an attorney when you first make your estate planning documents. If you do so, then your attorney will usually hold onto original legal documents. This could also be another way for you to store documents in a place that could be outside the reach of a disaster that hits your home. It some cases, you could give an estate planning attorney the second key to your safety deposit box, plus funeral instructions, and any other end-of-life instructions.

If you need to draft additional documents, if you need to update pre-existing documents or if you have any questions or issues regarding estate planning or probate, you can find the assistance you need from a probate attorney on our directory. Call a legal professional today!