Creating a good estate plan is one of the most powerful gifts you can give yourself and your loved ones. Once you have created that plan, however, keeping it safe and making sure the documents that comprise that plan are accessible are equally important. We the Owings Mills estate planning attorneys at Gershberg & Associates explain how to safely store your estate planning documents.
Common Estate Planning Documents
Every estate plan is as unique as the person who created it. There are, however, some common documents that are routinely part of a comprehensive estate plan, such as:
- Last Will and Testament
- Trust agreement
- Power of attorney
- Life insurance policy
- Advance directive
Understandably, many clients initially think that they should store their estate planning documents is in their existing safety deposit box, since that’s where they keep valuable jewelry, deeds to property, stocks and bonds, and other valuables. To many, it seems to make perfect sense to put your estate planning documents in your safety deposit box as well. However, your safety deposit box is not the best place for your estate planning documents.
Why Is My Safety Deposit Box Not Safe?
To understand why putting your estate planning documents in your safety deposit box may not be the best choice, you need to understand some probate basics. If you leave behind assets that are subject to Probate, for example, an account that is not titled in the name of a trust and does not have a beneficiary designation, said assets must 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
If you executed a Will prior to your death, you appointed someone to be the Executor, or Personal Representative as it’s called in Maryland, of your estate. Your Personal Representative is responsible for overseeing the probate process. To perform that job as intended, your appointed Personal Representative must initiate the probate process with appropriate court and petition the court to officially be appointed as your Personal Representative. If the court approves the appointment, the court will issue Letters of Administration, which provide proof that the Personal Representative has been appointed by the court and therefore has the authority to act on behalf of the estate.
In order to initiate the probate process and secure the appointment of your Personal Representative, they must provide the original copy of your Will 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 Personal Representative of your estate. This becomes a circular problem. Your chosen Personal Representative cannot secure the necessary Letters of Administration to act as your Personal Representative without your Will – but he/she cannot access your Will without the Letters of Administration – and around and around you go.
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, and if you are incapacitated at the time, such would only further complicate matters.
How Can I Keep My Estate Planning Documents Safe?
First, keep an original set of documents should be kept at home in a fireproof safe and/or with a trusted family member. Make sure someone you trust knows how to locate and retrieve your documents. Give your Fiduciaries copies of your important documents, like your Financial Power of Attorney.
At Gershberg & Associates, we provide our estate planning clients with their original documents and a portfolio book which contains copies of each document, to help our clients organize their important papers for easy retrieval. We also store digital copies of client’s documents.
Contact My Estate Planning Office For Help
For more information, or if you have additional questions or concerns about how to keep and store your estate plan, contact my experienced estate planning team and I by calling 410-654-3850 to schedule an appointment.