The documents that make up your comprehensive estate plan will likely be among the most important documents you create during your lifetime. Once those documents are prepared and ready to be utilized, what should you do with them? Where should they be kept until needed? The North Andover estate planning attorneys at DeBruyckere Law Offices discuss where you should keep your estate planning documents once your plan is in place.
Should Your Documents Be Stored in a Safety Deposit Box?
In many cases, an original copy (meaning one with an original signature in ink) of the document in question is required in order for the document to work as intended. For this reason, your estate planning documents should be kept together in a safe place. Understandably, the first place many people think to store their estate planning documents is in their existing safety deposit box. After all, that is probably where you keep valuable jewelry, deeds to property, stocks and bonds, and other valuables. At first glance, it makes perfect sense to put your estate planning documents in your safety deposit box as well. In reality, however, the best place for your estate planning documents is not in a safety deposit box.
What Happens to Estate Planning Documents after You Are Gone?
The problem with your safety deposit box begins with understanding some probate basics. Shortly after your death, your estate needs to go through the legal process known as “probate.” Probate serves numerous purposes, including:
Identifying and securing your assets
Authenticating your Will
Paying debts of the estate
Litigating any claims against the estate
Paying estate taxes
Distributing assets to beneficiaries and/or heirs
The Role of Executor
If you executed a Will prior to your death, you appointed someone to be the Executor of your estate. Your Executor is responsible for overseeing the probate process. To perform that job as intended, your appointed Executor must initiate the probate process with appropriate court and petition the court to officially be appointed as your Executor. If the court approves the appointment, the court will issue Letters Testamentary which provide proof that the Executor has been appointed by the court and therefore has the authority to act on behalf of the estate.
The problem is that in order to initiate the probate process and secure the appointment as your Executor, an original copy of your Will must be submitted to the court. If your Will is in your safety deposit box, however, the bank won’t allow access to the box without proof that the individual seeking access is the Executor of your estate and has the authority to access the box. This becomes a “chicken and egg” problem. Your Executor cannot secure the necessary Letters Testamentary to act as your Executor without your Will – but he/she cannot access your Will without the Letters Testamentary.
Similar problems can crop up with other estate planning documents as well. For example, an Agent with your Power of Attorney may have the legal authority necessary to access your safety deposit box; however, if the POA document granting your Agent that authority is in the box, your Agent has no way to prove that he/she is your Agent.
Where Should I Keep My Estate Planning Documents?
You now know where not to keep your estate planning documents – but where should you keep them? First, it is always a good idea to execute more than one original copy of important documents. Ask your estate planning attorney to keep one set of original documents. Also give an original copy to anyone named to a fiduciary position within your plan. Your Executor should get an original copy of your Will. A Trustee should have an original copy of a trust agreement and an Agent needs an original copy of a Power of Attorney. Finally, an original set of documents should be kept at home in a fireproof safe and/or given to a trusted family member.
Contact North Andover Estate Planning Attorneys
If you have additional questions or concerns, please contact the North Andover estate planning attorneys at DeBruyckere Law Offices by calling our New Hampshire office at (603) 894-4141 or our Massachusetts office (978) 969-0331 to learn more or visit our website at https://dadlawoffices.com .
Your estate plan is as unique as you are; however, some common documents found in an estate plan include:
· Last Will and Testament
· Trust agreement
· Power of attorney
· Life insurance policy
· Advance directive
Although there are numerous DIY Will forms available on the internet, using one of these forms dramatically increases the odds of litigation during the probate of your estate because of the likelihood of errors or omissions in the form.
It’s up to you whether you tell your loved ones the details of your estate plan or not. If you prefer to keep the details private, consider choosing a trusted friend or associate to give an original copy of your documents to instead of a family member.
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