Congratulations!  You took the very important step of putting an estate plan in place for you family.  Now, where should you keep your estate planning documents?  That’s the most common question I’m asked, and it’s a good one.  And, like most questions, there isn’t necessarily one, correct answer.  There are several good options and you should choose the one that works best for your family.

At Lichterman Law, we provide our clients with a very nice, sturdy estate planning portfolio binder which contains all their original estate planning documents, copies of a few of the more often used documents, and a cd containing pdf scanned copies of all of their estate planning documents.  We recommend that our clients keep their original wills, guardian nominations, and cd in a home safe.  We also make sure that they use the Introduction tab of their estate planning portfolio binder as a place to write where those important originals are located.  No matter where you keep your estate plan documents, it’s critically important to let someone (or multiple people) know where it is, especially those people who you’ve nominated to carry out your plan (personal representatives, trustees, agents under powers of attorney, guardians for minor children, etc.).

So that’s what we recommend for our clients.  But, I realize not everyone reading this is one of our clients, so here are a few alternatives (some ok and some not):

  • Keep everything in a safe.  Although this is not a “bad” idea, I think it’s overkill and makes notifying others of the location and how to access the safe extra important, because time is of the essence when some of the estate planning documents are needed.
  • Safe deposit box at a bank or credit union.  Personally, I’m not a fan of safe deposit boxes because I’ve heard very few good stories about them.  That said, many families still place vital documents and other items in a safe deposit box.  Again, the key (pun intended) is making sure those people you’ve named for important roles in your plan know where the box is and how to access it (where the key is).
  • Somewhere “safe” in your home.  Some families don’t have an actual safe and will keep their planning documents in a “safe” place in their home.  This is ok, just make sure that “safe” place is well protected from fire and water.
  • An original will can be filed for a nominal fee with the probate court in the county you live in.  This is only an option for wills, and even then I don’t recommend it.  Why?  Because your life will change, what you have will change, what you want to have happen will change, and the laws will change, so if you truly care about your family, your estate plan will need to change too.  Sometimes there can be numerous changes over a person’s lifetime, and the court having the document is just one more thing to remember each of those time (retrieve and destroy the old will when the new one is signed).
Michael Lichterman is an estate planning and charitable planning attorney who helps families and business owners create a lasting legacy by planning for their Whole Family Wealth™.  This goes beyond merely planning for “stuff” – it’s about who your are and what’s important to you.  He focuses on estate, charitable, and asset protection planning for all generations (“young” and “experienced”), the “sandwich generation” (caring for parents and children), doctors/physicians, nurses, lawyers, dentists, professionals with minor children, family owned businesses, and pet planning.  He enjoys creating life long relationships with his clients centered on their family’s values, insights, stories and experiences.