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What Should You Do With Your Estate Planning Documents?

So you’ve prepared an estate plan, that’s great news. You’re already ahead of 50% of Americans who have no formal estate plan. Now, what should you do with these documents?

Clients often ask us for advice on what to do with these documents. Where should they keep them and who should they share the documents with.  The answer really depends on your comfort level, but we can offer a few guidelines.

Hang on to those originals!

Your original documents are very important as they are the best evidence of your estate plan. In fact, Florida law requires that your original Will be deposited with the clerk of the court after your death. It’s very important that you keep your original documents in a safe, but accessible place so your heirs and family will be able to access them when needed.

Not in a Safe Deposit Box

Contrary to popular belief, your safe deposit box is generally not a good place to store your estate planning documents. Florida requires a court order to open the safe deposit box of the deceased. This means your family can end up spending thousands of dollars on a probate that may be unnecessary just to open your safe deposit box.

If you insist on storing your original documents in a safe deposit box, and we don’t recommend it, consider adding a joint owner to the box and confirming with the institution that person can access the box without you.

Store Your Documents In A Safe, But Accessible Place

For most clients, we recommend they store their estate planning documents in their home or office with other important papers. It’s important that these documents be protected from fire and flood. Therefore you may want to consider a fireproof and waterproof safe. Of course, make sure that someone knows how to access the safe should something happen to you.

While your documents should be put in a safe place and protected from “prying eyes” you should not hide your documents. Your fiduciaries and family will need them should something happen to you. If your documents cannot be found, you will be presumed to have died without a will.

Depending on your personal and family circumstances I suggest that you let your fiduciaries know where your estate planning documents are in the event they need to access them, yet still keep the document put away and protected.

Consider Who To Share Copies of Your Documents With

For most clients, the decision of whether not to share copies of their estate planning documents is a very personal decision and depends on their comfort level and family circumstances.

You may want to consider providing your medical providers with copies of your healthcare related documents for their files. This would include the HIPAA authorization, Designation of Healthcare Surrogate, Designation of Healthcare Surrogate for Minors and Living Wills.

However, keep in mind that sometimes sharing your documents can invite unwanted comments, suggestions, or hurt feelings. You may want to have a more in-depth discussion about this with your attorney at the time you draft your documents.

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Katie Floyd