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The Fancy Folder in Your Safe Deposit Box

Updated: Jun 29, 2023

If you are one of the wonderful clients who has executed estate planning documents at my office, you may have noticed that I do not use fancy paper or stylized folders. We print on archival paper, but there is nothing fancy about it! The reason is not economy--although that is always a consideration--but because I very much do not want you to place your original documents in a bank vault never to be seen again. When we make a document too "fine," the temptation is to treat it as an heirloom instead of as the ongoing work product it is meant to be.

The Importance of Revisiting Your Estate Plan After Any Major Life Change

Your estate plan is a living document that should be updated as your life changes. This is especially important after major life events, such as marriage, divorce, the birth or adoption of a child, the death of a loved one, or even buying or selling real estate. Here are some of the reasons why it's important to revisit your estate plan after a major life change:

  • Your financial situation may have changed. If you've received an inheritance, started a new business, or retired, your estate plan may need to be updated to reflect your new assets. Plans are not one-size-fits-all, and your estate's size changes over time.

  • Your family situation may have changed. If you've gotten married, divorced, or had children, your estate plan will likely need to be updated to reflect your new beneficiaries. Sometimes your executor moves away or dies, or perhaps your son- or daughter-in-law becomes more like one of your children. You want to keep track of whom you have named in fiduciary or beneficiary roles as time goes on.

  • Your health may have changed. Often, an estate plan is written as mostly theoretical. If you've become ill or disabled, you may need to update your plan to appoint a new guardian for your children or to make arrangements for your medical care. You may have specific end-of-life wishes as the end of life comes more into focus.

  • The law may have changed. Laws are constantly changing, so it's important to make sure that your plan is still up-to-date. While many older Wills are just fine, it is worth having a review of those documents to make sure you are squared away.

a lawyer with a laptop meeting with a senior couple

If you've experienced a major life change, it is important to schedule a meeting with your estate planning attorney to discuss your new circumstances. Your attorney can help you update your plan to ensure that your wishes are still being met. If you don't have an attorney or are not satisfied with your previous planning, I am happy to help. I can review your current estate planning packet for a one-time fee that is less than you think--often no more than $200. Contact me or submit an inquiry for a quick quote.

Now That My Plan is Up to Date, Where Do I Put It?

True story: In 2005, I came home from work to find that my house had been on fire. Our connected rowhouse was next door to the scene of an arson, and our pets were home alone at the time! They were fine, but we had significant smoke damage. I had one of those Suzy Orman expando-folders for all my essential documents, and before calling our insurance agent I spread it open across our bed upstairs to retrieve my policy. Then as I was making dinner, the arsonists RETURNED and lit the house on fire again!! My documents remained spread all over the bed as firefighters drowned all our worldly goods in order to save the structure.

And that was the day I discovered fire safes.

I am not suggesting that you NOT put your Last Will or Trust documents in a safe deposit box. But as discussed above, this might not be the best location if (a) you do not revisit the box often and (b) no one else has access. If you do choose to keep your documents at the bank, make sure that your executor and/or power of attorney has signature card access to the box, AND that they know of its contents.

Here are some suggestions for places to keep your estate planning documents:

  • In a fire safe. Your executor, POA, and/or children should know where the box is and what it contains. Give them the combination. (You are already trusting your POA with the ability to sign documents and buy/sell real estate on your behalf. Can you not trust them with the combination to your safe?? If not, you have a bigger issue.)

  • In a fire-proof and water-proof cabinet or closet. A small fire-proof filing cabinet is a great idea, but a greater idea (particularly if you are building or remodeling a home) is a fire-proof closet or storm shelter. Again, make sure someone knows how to get in and which original documents can be found there.

  • At your lawyer's office. Your attorney should have a copy of your documents. You can also entrust them with the originals, provided they have a safe storage method. Just ask them!

  • Register of Deeds. While this is unusual, you CAN record your Last Will with the local Register of Deeds. Just note two things:

    • If you record your Will, you can only revoke or replace that Will by recordation of the revocation or of the new Will or codicils.

    • Some registers of deeds no longer keep original paper documents; they merely scan them and return the originals. Ask them to be sure.

  • Safe deposit box. Go ahead and do it, with all above safeguards in place, and set yourself a calendar reminder to check the box periodically.

  • With your fiduciaries/beneficiaries. All should have digital copies of any document that names them. Your fiduciaries should know where the originals are located.

If you are committed to having a fancy folder that resembles a receptacle for the original Declaration of Independence, let me know in advance of executing your documents. I am happy to indulge you, if you promise to keep revisiting your estate plan as life changes. In the interest of encouraging you to visit often, I will keep estate planning costs as low as possible and provide a comfortable space for you to enjoy.

Call me now to discuss the changes in your life. I will turn on the printer.

the front of a combination safe

This post was created with the assistance of Bard, an AI solution from Google.

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