Anyone who has been around long enough knows that accidents happen, Murphy’s Law does exist, and things have a tendency to go wrong occasionally; computers crash, fires happen, pipes break and flood the first floor of your home. And sometimes things just get lost during the passage of time. This can even happen to something as important as your estate planning documents. This is why it’s important to know where and how to store your estate planning documents once you’ve executed them.

  1. Have copies. No matter where you decide to keep your signed originals, photocopies should be made and kept somewhere they can be found easily by your agents should something happen to you. A library bookshelf, or office closet is an unobtrusive but accessible place to store copies.
  2. Keep your original documents someplace safe from thievery and natural disasters. Originals can be kept in a fire-safe in your home if you have one, or in a safe deposit box at the venue of your choice. If you do decide to keep the documents in a safe deposit box, be sure to put the box in the name of the trust rather than your own name. This allows your trustee to access the box (and the documents inside) when you pass away.
  3. Make sure your agents and fiduciaries have the documents they will need to do their job should anything happen to you. Your will or trust should stay in your possession, along with your various other documents, but your healthcare agent will need a copy of your Advance Healthcare Directive and your HIPAA privacy authorization, and your nominated guardians should have the original document giving them permission to make health care decisions for your minor child if you are unavailable.

Every estate plan will vary slightly, so ask your attorney which documents to keep and which to send to your fiduciaries after you’ve signed. And if you can, get you documents in .pdf format on a disk or flash drive. The electronic copies are just that—copies—and won’t hold up in court; but it’s one more level of protection should disaster strike. At least they can then be quickly duplicated and re-signed by you if necessary.