Easter egg hunts are a great family activity that occur each spring. The kids have a blast searching for small plastic treasures laden with goodies. Although everyone can attest to a good scavenger hunt, the fun of searching ceases later on in life, when kids need to hunt for important estate planning documents once you are gone.
After a loved one passes away, the last thing a grieving family member wants to do is go searching through every cabinet in the house for their parents’ legal documents. Likewise, no one wants to walk from bank to bank, with death certificate in hand, asking if their parents had an account there. Yet, we see this issue all the time in my office. The answer to this dilemma is actually quite simple. Store all important legal documents in a safe and accessible location that loved ones can locate. So what does that mean exactly?
Readily Accessible Places
The best place to store documents such as a Will, a Trust, a Power of Attorney, or a Health Care Surrogate is in a drawer at home or at your office. Preferably, in a clear Ziploc bag, in case of flooding. Family members need to be told exactly where the originals are stored so they can access them in case of your incapacity or sudden death.
Unlike preparation for an Easter egg hunt, resist the temptation to hide your documents. People have placed their estate planning documents under mattresses, inside books and even in the refrigerator. If no one can find your Will during your lifetime, it is not going to do you any good after your death. If you do not want anyone to see it, move it off the premises, so long as you let your loved ones know where to access it.
What About Your Safe Deposit Box?
Many people think that their safe deposit box is the best place to store their original estate planning documents, but this is definitely FALSE. In Florida, accessing a safe box after the owner has passed requires a certified court order. Once you open the box, you can only inventory the items in the presence of a bank officer. To actually get the items out, you need yet another court order, called an Order to Distribute.
Therefore, your loved ones will not have immediate access to your estate plan if you pass away, at least not without that court order. If you want to place the documents in a safe deposit box, consider putting the box in the name of your Revocable Trust (also known as a Living Trust), or listing the Revocable Trust as the beneficiary of the box. This way, the successor trustee of your trust can gain immediate access to the box when the time comes, without needing a court order.
Digital Copies with your Estate Planning Attorney
Estate planning attorneys these days can scan and make digital copies of every document they create for you. At the completion of signing your documents, ask your attorney to email the signed copies to you and everyone else who should have it. That way anyone who needs to have it can access it immediately by logging into their email.
Additionally, know that if the originals are accidentally destroyed, your attorney can easily recreate them from copies they hold and have everything resigned.
If No One Can Find Your Documents
If your original documents cannot be found after your death, the presumption will be that you either did not leave a Will or Trust, or you intended to destroy it. The court will proceed as though you died intestate. This means that assets pass to your family as per the Florida probate rules of intestacy. Your assets 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.
Don’t let the aftermath of your passing turn into a scavenger hunt for your family. If you create your estate plan at OC Estate & Elder Law, know that we will maintain digital signed copies of ALL your estate planning documents, both past and present. That means, 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!