Where to Store Your Estate Planning Documents

Your Will Won't Do Any Good If No One Can Find It

People reviewing legal will documents
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Many people wonder where to store their last will and testament and other original estate planning documents. The answer may look different for everyone, but the rule of thumb is that you should store them in a safe and accessible place.

Consider a few of the places you could store your will and decide which option works best for you and your loved ones.

Storing Your Documents in a Safe Deposit Box

Many people think that their safe deposit box at their neighborhood bank or credit union is the best place to store their original estate planning documents. However, this isn't always the case.

In many states, your family will need a court order to open up the box and locate your documents if it's solely in your name without a joint owner. Your loved ones won't have immediate access to your estate plan if you become disabled or after you die—at least not without that court order. 

If you want to place the documents in a safe deposit box, consider putting the box in the name of your revocable living trust. A revocable living trust—sometimes simply called a "living trust"—is a legal entity created to hold ownership of an individual's assets. With a revocable living trust, the successor trustee can gain immediate access to the box when the time comes.

Tip

If you don't have or don't want a revocable living trust, add a joint owner to the safe deposit box. This should be someone you can trust to get the documents to the appropriate people.

Storing Your Documents in Readily Accessible Places

It may seem like the most logical place for your estate planning documents is in your home or office. But if you go this route, be sure the spot is protected from fire and floods. A fireproof, waterproof safe would be ideal, and if you do decide to use a safe, make sure someone you know and trust has the lock combination. 

At a minimum, keep the documents on a high shelf. It's not uncommon for people to lose their original documents because they were stored on the bottom shelf of a bookcase and destroyed in a storm. 

Resist the temptation to "hide" your will. People have been known to place their estate planning documents under mattresses, inside books, and even wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator. If no one can find your will during your lifetime, they likely won't be able to find it after your death, either.

Storing Your Documents With Your Attorney

Your attorney's office is perhaps the safest place for your will or other estate planning documents. At the very least, they should retain signed copies of all paperwork relating to your estate. If the originals are accidentally destroyed, your attorney can easily recreate them from copies and have everything re-signed.

You might also place your will with the executor or personal representative you named in the document to settle your estate. This person will have the most immediate need to locate it after your death. Ideally, you've already talked with them so you know they're willing to take on the job. If they die before you do, you would have to amend your will anyway. But if everything goes as planned, they'll have the will at their fingertips when the time comes.

If you've formed a revocable living trust, the person you've named as your successor trustee can hold the paperwork for you. 

What Happens If No One Can Find Your Documents?

If your original documents can't be found after your death, the presumption will be that you either did not leave a will or you intended to destroy it.

In that case, the court will proceed as though you died intestate, or without a will or any other estate plan. Your assets will pass to your closest kin in an order set by state law, rather than by the terms you set out in your estate plan. 

Key Takeaways

  • While it may look a little different for everyone, it's important that you store your estate planning documents in a safe and accessible place.
  • A safety deposit box, attorney's office, or a well-protected area of your home may be the best options for you.
  • Whatever you choose, be sure that someone you know and trust is able to find your will after you die.