Where to Store Estate Planning Documents? (7 Best Practices and Tips)

Have you ever wondered "Where should I store my estate planning documents?" If so, you're not alone. In this blog post, we'll delve deeper into the best places to store your estate planning documents.
Title says: Where to Store Estate Planning Documents, with waves in the background.

Estate planning is a thoughtful process that ensures your wishes are honored in the event of your incapacity or passing. However, the meticulous effort put into drafting these documents can be in vain if they’re not stored correctly.

So, where to store estate planning documents?

While safeguarding them from theft, damage, or loss is paramount, it’s equally crucial that they remain accessible to those who’ll carry out your wishes. Whether it’s your successor trustee, executor, or agent, timely access to these documents can be the difference between a smooth transition and a legal quagmire.

In essence, the right storage balances security with accessibility, ensuring that your legacy is both protected and executable.

In this blog post, we’ll delve deeper into some ideas of places to store your estate planning documents.

Where to store estate planning documents, list of 6 places

1. Store Estate Planning Documents in a Waterproof and Fireproof Safe in Your Home

One of the most convenient and secure places to store your estate planning documents is right within your home. However, it’s essential to ensure that these documents are protected from potential disasters like floods and fires. Investing in a waterproof and fireproof safe can be a wise decision.

Storing estate planning documents in a waterproof and fireproof safe at home offers immediate access and control over your vital papers. This method ensures protection against common household threats like water damage from potential leaks or fires. Being in a familiar environment, homeowners can also frequently check and ensure the documents’ safety.

However, there are downsides to this approach. Even with a sturdy safe, there’s always a risk of theft, especially if burglars identify the safe as a repository for valuable items. Additionally, while the documents might be protected from water and fire, other factors like humidity, pests, or simple wear and tear from frequent handling could pose threats over time.

Lastly, it’s crucial that trusted individuals know the safe’s location and combination, ensuring they can access the documents if the owner is unable to provide access.

Location Matters: If you reside in a single-story house, it’s advisable to place the safe on a higher shelf, safeguarding it from potential flood damage. For those living in two-story homes, the upper floor can be an ideal location.
Communication is Key: If you decide to keep your documents in a home safe, ensure that the individuals responsible for executing your wishes are aware of the safe’s location and how to access it.

2. Store Estate Planning Documents in a Safe Deposit Box

Many individuals prefer the added security of a bank’s safe deposit box for their original estate planning documents. For California residents, using a safe deposit box to store estate planning documents offers a heightened level of security against theft, fire, or other potential damages. Banks provide a controlled environment, ensuring that these critical papers remain intact over the years.

However, there are some considerations to keep in mind.

Access to a safe deposit box can be limited to bank hours, which might pose challenges in urgent situations. Furthermore, if the box is only in the decedent’s name, the bank will require a court order to access its contents, potentially causing delays.

It’s also essential for trusted individuals to know of the box’s existence and have the means to access it, whether through a key or authorization, to avoid complications in retrieving the documents when needed.

Details Matter: If you opt for a safe deposit box, ensure that you provide clear information about its location, who can access it, and where the key can be found.

3. Store Estate Planning Documents With Your Attorney

Storing your estate planning documents with your estate planning or elder law attorney offers the peace of mind that comes with professional custody.

Attorneys typically have secure storage facilities designed for such important documents, and they can provide guidance or copies when needed, ensuring that the documents are handled with the utmost care and confidentiality.

Many estate planning attorneys offer to keep original copies of their clients’ documents. This can be beneficial because:

  1. They have secure storage facilities specifically designed for such important documents.
  2. They can provide copies or the original when needed.
  3. They can guide your beneficiaries or executor on the next steps after your passing.

However, there are potential drawbacks to consider. If the attorney retires, relocates, or if the firm undergoes significant changes, accessing your documents might become more complicated. Additionally, there might be fees associated with storage or retrieval services.

Lastly, in the unfortunate event of your attorney’s sudden incapacity or death, there could be delays or challenges in accessing your documents during transitional periods for the law firm.

4. Using Digital Storage for Your Estate Planning Documents

In today’s digital age, there are secure online platforms and cloud storage services where you can store scanned copies of your revocable living trust and other estate planning documents. Storing your estate planning documents digitally provides the advantage of easy access from virtually anywhere, especially beneficial for those who travel frequently or have beneficiaries in different locations.

Digital storage also allows for easy duplication and sharing, reducing the risk of losing the only copy. On the flip side, digital storage is not without its vulnerabilities. There’s the potential threat of cyberattacks, data breaches, or technical malfunctions that could compromise the integrity or accessibility of the documents. Furthermore, relying solely on digital copies might not be legally sufficient in some jurisdictions, necessitating the presence of original physical documents for certain legal procedures.

While you shouldn’t rely solely on digital copies:

  • They serve as a backup in case physical copies are lost or damaged.
  • They can be accessed from anywhere, which is especially useful if you travel frequently.
  • Ensure the platform you choose is encrypted and has robust security measures.

5. Store Your Estate Planning Documents With a Trusted Family Member or Friend

Entrusting your estate planning documents to a trusted family member or friend can provide a sense of personal security, knowing that someone who genuinely cares about your wishes is safeguarding them. This method often ensures quicker access in emergencies, as these individuals are likely to be closely involved during times of crisis.

If you have a confidant whom you trust implicitly, you might consider giving them a copy of your estate planning documents. This ensures:

  • Quick access when the need arises.
  • Someone you trust is aware of your wishes and can advocate for them.

However, there are potential pitfalls to consider. The chosen individual might misplace the documents, or they could be inadvertently accessed by others in their household. There’s also the emotional aspect; in times of grief or family disputes, the presence of these documents might become a point of contention.

Additionally, the trusted person’s own life events, such as relocation, personal emergencies, or even their passing, could complicate the accessibility and safety of the documents.

6. Store Estate Planning Documents In a Personal Office or Study

If you have a personal office or study room, you can dedicate a drawer or cabinet for important documents, including your estate planning documents. Storing your estate planning documents in your personal office or study offers the convenience of having them within arm’s reach, allowing for easy access and review whenever needed.

This proximity can foster a sense of control and assurance, knowing exactly where your vital documents are located.

However, this method also comes with risks. Personal spaces, unless specifically designed for document storage, might not offer the same protection against potential threats like fire, water damage, or theft.

Additionally, without proper organization, there’s a risk of misplacing the documents or them being inadvertently discarded or damaged, especially if the space is accessed by others or is prone to clutter.

If you choose to store your will or trust in your office, ensure that:

  • The room is secure and has limited access.
  • It’s free from potential damage like moisture or pests.

7. Use a Document Storage Company to Store Estate Planning Documents.

Using a document storage company to store estate planning documents offers the advantage of professional, climate-controlled facilities that are specifically designed to protect critical papers from damage, theft, or loss.

These companies often provide enhanced security measures, ensuring that your documents remain confidential and intact.

On the downside, there’s a recurring cost associated with such services, and accessing your documents might not be as immediate as having them stored closer to home.

Additionally, relying solely on a third-party service requires trust that the company will remain solvent and operational in the long term and that they will handle your documents with the utmost care and professionalism.

When you store estate planning documents with a document storage company, the main benefits include:

  • Climate-controlled facilities.
  • Fireproof and waterproof storage options.
  • Retrieval services when documents are needed.

So, Where Should I Store My Estate Planning Documents?

Even with the options listed above, you may still be wondering “Where Should I Store Estate Planning Documents”?

The decision on where to store your estate planning documents is not one-size-fits-all and is contingent on a myriad of factors. There is no single safest place to store estate planning documents.

Personal preferences, the level of accessibility required, concerns about security, and even geographical considerations, such as susceptibility to natural disasters, can all influence this choice in where to store and protect your estate planning documents.

It’s essential to weigh the pros and cons of each storage option against your unique circumstances to ensure that your documents are both safe and readily accessible when needed.

In Conclusion: What is the best location to store estate planning documents?

The primary goal is to ensure that your estate planning documents are both safe and accessible. Regardless of your chosen storage method, the most crucial aspect is communication.

Remember, these documents hold no value if no one knows their whereabouts, which may result in probate.

Regularly remind your beneficiaries or executor about their location, ensuring a smooth process when the time comes and avoiding probate.

By understanding the importance of the intentional storing of your estate planning documents, along with an open line of communication, you’re taking proactive steps to safeguard your legacy and wishes.

Picture of Matt Odgers

Matt Odgers

Attorney Matthew W. Odgers is a partner and co-founder of Opelon LLP, a firm based in San Diego, California that focuses its energy on Estate Planning, Trust Administration, and Probate

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