“A simple but important issue involved in estate planning is where to keep your legal documents after they are signed,” observes attorney Richard Silvester. Silvester himself recommends clients keep the originals of their own documents.  “Thirty years from now,” he cautions, “when the estate plan actually needs to be administered, it is almost certainly going to be easier to find your own paperwork than to find the attorney who prepared the documents.”

Be that as it may, when clients of Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates request that we keep their documents, we retain their originals in a fireproof area, plus keep electronic copies that are backed up every fifteen minutes.

Silvester offers an important caution: Once you decide where to put your documents, take steps to remember where they are. Vitally important, he adds, is making sure someone other than yourself is able to find them.

Possible places to store documents include:

  • Safety deposit box at the bank (keeping photocopies in a binder for reference), although ensure some knows the location of the box and has access to it if you die
  • Desk drawer or cabinet at home
  • Fire-resistant lock box at home

One strange-sounding recommendation Silvester has heard is sealing important papers in plastic, then keeping them in the freezer compartment of your refrigerator.  The idea? The freezer is fire-resistant due to the insulation, and thieves would be unlikely to look there.

Whatever your decision, Silvester concludes, write it down, then give that written information to an adult child, friend, or neighbor.  For married couples, it’s important that each spouse knows the location of both wills.

Do photocopies have value? Possibly.  If nothing else, copies of a document held in different places can be compared against each other to prove that the original is legitimate.

“It isn’t enough to sign a bunch of papers establishing an estate plan and other end-of-life instructions.  You also have to make heirs aware of them and have the documents where they can find them, concludes Saabira Chaudhuri, writing in the Wall Street Journal.

– by  Ronnie of the Rebecca W. Guyer & Associates blog team