Everyone loves a good Easter egg hunt. Kids love searching for the special eggs and adults love hiding the goodies where they cannot be easily found. Your family may have fun with this and other scavenger hunts through the years, but finding your estate plan should not be a scavenger hunt. Storing your documents in several places and not telling anyone where they are is setting up your family for disaster. When a person passes away, the family should focus on grieving – and not running around from bank to bank trying to figure out where the decedent had accounts. Even worse is not knowing if the person died having had a Will or Trust in place.
With all the emotional turmoil your family will go through as they bid you farewell, the last thing your children will want to do is search desks, closets and cabinets for documents and race from bank to bank hunting for your accounts. But we see this tragic situation again and again in our office. Often, family members do not even know what they are looking for. Is there a Last Will and Testament (“Will”)? What real estate property did their loved one own? Where are their bank accounts? Did they have a life insurance policy, stock accounts, IRAs, etc.?
Obviously, you need to store all your important legal documents in a safe and accessible location and tell loved ones where that is. But what does that mean, exactly?
Make Documents Easy to Find
You do not need to put your Will, Trust, Power of Attorney, or other documents in a heavy-duty safe with a secret combination. Nor should you keep them in a safe deposit box at the bank. The best place to put your important legal and financial documents is simply a drawer at home, preferably in a plastic zip bag to protect it from flooding or excess moisture.
And, of course, make sure your future survivors know the documents are there. You are not the Easter Bunny, and chances are slim that someone will want to steal your Will or healthcare directive; you do not need to hide the documents in books, under your mattress or in your refrigerator (yes, we have seen that). If no one can find your Will after you die, you might as well not have written it. The people you name in it could end up getting nothing.
Should You Keep Documents in a Safe Deposit Box?
In a word: No.
In Florida, a safe deposit box may be the least safe place to deposit your documents. Accessing it after the owner’s death requires a court order, and removing anything from it requires a second order. That means survivors cannot carry out the wishes you have dictated in the Will in a timely manner.
If you must use a safe deposit box, you can cut the legal red tape by putting it in the name of your Revocable Trust (also known as a Living Trust) or listing the Revocable Trust as the beneficiary of the box. As the owner, the successor Trustee can then gain immediate access without a court order.
Give Digital Copies to Your Love
No matter what storage method you use, make sure your trusted family members have digital copies of your estate plan. Today’s technology makes it easy; your attorney can scan the original documents and email the digital versions to you and everyone else who needs them. Not only is this a convenient way to store them, but it will also create a backup so the originals can be re-created if they get destroyed.
What If No One Can Find Your Documents?
When documents cannot be located after your death, the court overseeing the disbursement of your estate will have to assume they do not exist and will proceed as though you died intestate (without a Will). This means that your assets will pass to your closest kin in an order set by state law rather than by the terms you had laid out in your estate plan.
And that could mean the eggs you collected so carefully over your lifetime will sit in their hiding places, unknown and uninherited by the people who deserve to have them.
A Basket of Legal Protection
Keep grieving family members from having to hunt down your documents after you pass away. If you create your estate plan at OC Estate and Elder Law, know that we will maintain digital signed copies of ALL your estate planning documents, both past and present. That means that even if your original Will or Trust is destroyed or lost, we can provide a copy to your family. If you do not have an estate plan or have not updated it since your last major life event, such as marriage, divorce, birth or death in the family, now is the time to contact us for a free consultation at (954) 251-0332 or firstname.lastname@example.org. We speak English, Spanish, and Russian. Happy Easter!