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The Dean Law Firm Blog

Monday, March 12, 2018

Preserving and Protecting Documents is Part of Healthy Estate Planning

In the unsettled time after a loved one’s death, imagine the added stress on the family if the loved one died without a Will or any instructions on distributing his or her assets.  Now, imagine the even greater stress to grieving survivors if they know a Will exists, but they cannot find it!  It is not enough to prepare a Will and other estate planning documents like trusts. To ensure that your family clearly understands your wishes after death, you must also take good care to preserve and protect all of your estate planning documents.

Did you know that if your original signed Will cannot be found, the probate court presumes that you intended to revoke your Will.  If the probate court makes that decision, then your assets will be distributed as if you never had a Will in the first place.  There are some limited circumstances where a copy of a Will can be probated, but it is difficult and usually requires proof of an intervening act of God, such as loss by flood or fire. 

Where should you keep your original signed Will?  There are several safe options.  One option is to your Will at home in a fireproof safe.  This is the lowest-cost option, since all you need to do is purchase a well-constructed fireproof document safe.  Alternatively, you can keep your Will in a safety deposit box, which is the most secure option.  If you keep your Will in a safety deposit box though, be sure to leave authorization for your Executor to have access to your safety deposit box upon your death or it will require a Court order in order for the Executor to have the box opened.  With the safety deposit box, the Will is strongly protected against alteration or destruction because family members may have access to a copy, but not the all-important original.

You may also be able to store your Will and other documents online.  However, any electronic version of your original Will is – by definition – a copy, not the original.  So, you still must find a safe place to store the original, signed and witnessed Will.  Online storage “safes” may be an excellent back-up, but you must still find a secure place to store the paper originals.

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