Now that you’ve created an estate plan, where should the documents be kept?
The answer depends on the document, and whether you’re talking about the original document or a copy.
Originals of all the documents — Will, Trust, Health Care Directive, Durable Power of Attorney and related documents — should be kept in a place as free from theft, fire and water damage as possible. That could be a safe deposit box, a home safe or a protected “safe” spot within your home.
It is likely that only your Health Care Directive will be needed in an emergency situation. The Health Care Directive is limited to your physical care.
Having multiple original copies of your Health Care Directive is a good idea. You can keep at least one original with your other estate planning documents. The other originals can be freely handed out to your primary physician and the persons that you’ve handpicked to be your health care agents.
Or you can keep the original copies of your Health Care Directive in your home, but in a location that is easily accessible and known to others. The Health Care Directive comes into play when you are incapacitated and can’t speak for yourself. For example, perhaps you are severely injured in a weekend car accident and are taken to the emergency room of a hospital. Unless your Health Care Directive is readily available, it will be of no use to give your self-appointed agent access to your medical records and to provide your guidance for your care and treatment.
Whereas the Health Care Directive should be easily accessible, your Durable Power of Attorney document should not be. The Durable Power of Attorney is for your financial life. Even assuming that you’ve selected the most responsible person possible to hold this power on your behalf, it is best not to give someone direct access to your bank accounts until the need arises. That need typically does not arise in a sudden, unexpected way. Therefore, this document can be behind lock and key.
One thought is to copy all of your estate planning documents and place them in a three-ring binder. The copies enable you to easily review your plans, and the persons that you’ve appointed to carry out those plans, without risking damage to your original documents.
You may wish to also include in the three-ring binder the locations of all of your financial accounts, and a list of any life insurance or other policies that you hold. Also, make a list of your user names and passwords. Basically, imagine you are the son, daughter or other person who needs to help you when you are incapacitated in some way. What would that person need to know to help them help you? If it’s something they’d need or find helpful to know, include the information in the binder.
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Minnetonka, MN 55305