One of the last things we discuss with all of our estate planning clients before they head out the door is the importance of keeping the various documents that make up their estate plan in a safe place. Many respond by telling us they plan to keep everything in an actual safe. While this may sound like a good idea, keeping your estate plan in a safe or a safe deposit box can cause your family a lot of trouble in the long run.
A Common Mistake
It is easy to understand why keeping your documents in a safe at home or a safe deposit box at the bank seems like a good idea. Safes and safe deposit boxes are literally designed to keep things safe. It makes sense.
However, there is a difference between keeping your documents safe and making them inaccessible. In order to be used, your estate planning documents must be in a place where the people you are trusting will implement them can find them and get to work. This is especially true of power of attorney documents and advanced health care directives, which your loved ones will need quick access to in an emergency if you are incapacitated.
Keeping your estate planning documents locked away means your loved ones will have to jump through a lot of hoops to even access your estate plan, let alone abide by it. We have worked with numerous families that had to go to court to get a legal order allowing them to break into a safe or open a safe deposit box that they do not own.
Getting court permission to open a safe or access a safe deposit box takes time and money. It then takes additional funds to pay a locksmith who can crack the safe or drill out the locks in a safe deposit box.
We recommend storing estate planning documents in a filing cabinet or unlocked strongbox in your home. The people you have nominated to serve as your estate administrator should all be made aware of the location.
For those people that really feel strongly about keeping their documents in a safe or bank box, we suggest making sure the people you have nominated to serve as estate administrators have complete access. This means giving them keys or codes to home safes, and working with the bank to make sure they are approved to access your safe deposit box and, if possible, have their own key.
If you have questions about this or any other aspect of the estate planning process, please do not hesitate to reach out and contact us.