What Do I Do With My Original Estate Documents?

Years ago all attorneys, it seemed, kept their clients’ original wills and estate planning documents in a vault in the office. But at that time most people lived in the same house or town until they died. Today, people are so much more mobile, moving from one community to another, and one state to another, even late in life.

Today, many attorneys, like us, send the original documents home with the client at the time of signing. In our office, we maintain a digital copy, but there are times when the original is needed. Some of my clients have asked me what they should do with their documents. There are a number of great places to keep them.

  • Your safety deposit box at your bank,
  • At home, in a fireproof box or safe along with other important papers. If you do this, be sure to have a box that can leave with you in case of an evacuation ( a hurricane plan for us here in Florida), or
  • Some recommend that if you are certain that you won’t change your nominated personal representative, give them the original will to hold.

There are potential issues with each choice. You could change banks or forget about the safety deposit box, lose documents in your home, or your personal representative could become unable to serve. Contrary to some beliefs, in Florida you cannot store your will with the Clerk of Court. They will not accept a will unless the person is deceased.

Estate planning is important and does not end with executing your documents. Some take it a step further by making an emergency sheet for trusted agents that includes the names of banks where they do banking and include where the safety deposit box is. You don’t need to include account balances, but account numbers would help. On that data sheet you can also include information such as the location of your documents, the dates they were executed and the attorney’s contact information. Of course, it is always helpful to list your key advisors such as your insurance providers, financial advisor, and your attorney.

In this kind of situation I have learned from my clients. Those who have prepared their own Data/Emergency sheets seemed so much better prepared. Not only did they benefit but so did those who were named as the agents or personal representatives who were able to use that information to step in and handle things without chaos.