Once you have signed your will (making sure to following the correct protocol with witness signatures, etc.) and the other documents that go with it, where do you keep it? Client often ask this question and there is no one right answer but there are some guidelines to keep in mind. Wherever you decide to keep your original documents, they must be both safe and secure but also available to those whom you have appointed to take responsibility if something happens to you. Some common examples are:
1. Safe Deposit Boxes. Safe deposit boxes are a good choice because they are a very safe place to keep documents; however, they can be difficult to access later. If the document that authorizes access to the safe deposit box is in the safe deposit box itself, then it could be difficult to access and may even require a court order. If you are going to store your documents in a safe deposit box, please make sure that someone has access to it by adding them to the account at the bank. Make sure your designee is trustworthy, though, as they can then access the safe deposit box anytime with the authority that they have. It’s also a good idea not to keep other valuables in the same box unless, again, the designee is very trustworthy.
2. Home Safe. A safe at home is another good choice but suffers from the same problem as a safe deposit box. That is, if something happens to you and the combination or key is unavailable, the documents necessary to exercise control will not be available to those who need them. Make sure that a trustworthy person has access to the documents.
3. With Your Lawyer. Some clients ask me to keep their original documents; however, there can also be a problem with access. And, lawyers move offices, change jobs, suffer water damage, etc. Generally, I do not think it is a good idea to house documents at a lawyer office although there are lawyers who will offer this service.
4. At Home. The most common place to store personal documents is in a file at home (or, in some cases, in the freezer or some other place in the home). As discussed above, make sure that whomever is appointed to take control of your affairs knows where to find the documents and make sure that they are secure in case of a home burglary.
Lastly, clients often ask for copies to provide to the person or people that are designated to take control of their affairs. Copies will work in some cases but, for certain actions, an original will be required. Also, if you make changes to your wills later, it is a good idea to make sure that those people receive the update documents so that their copy sets are current. Also, it is a good idea to keep electronic copies (scanned copies) of your documents because they are easy to transmit and less likely to be lost. However, as described above, be careful about making your documents too easily available to avoid identity theft and other problems like that.
Please be advised, this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion. Always seek the advice of legal counsel prior to making legal decisions.