From birth to death and even beyond, legal documents play an enormous role in your life and the lives of your loved ones. When certain key documents get destroyed or go missing, their absence can leave a trail of chaos behind, from disputes over your estate holdings to confusion over power of attorney assignments. The result will be more time and money spent.
The more you understand about which documents should go where, the more efficiently and sensibly you can secure those documents for any other parties who may require access to them. Here are some common strategies for handling estate documents and other key pieces of information.
Protecting Electronic Documents
If you make digital copies of certain key legal documents, you can easily safeguard these documents in a secure location off-site. You can upload estate documents to a general-purpose platform such as Dropbox, or you can make use of a dedicated legal documentation site.
Even if you place your documents in the cloud, you should still keep copies on your computer or removable media. Place any magnetic media in a safe that protects it against temperatures above 125° Fahrenheit. Password-protect any drives that contain private or sensitive data, including estate data.
Bear in mind that privacy protection can cause problems not only for unauthorized intruders but also for your executor, beneficiaries, or attorneys. Make sure that you give the necessary passwords to these individuals, and that the individuals will store that information securely in their own preferred manner.
Some online platforms such as Facebook and Google enforce strict limits on who can view their customers’ data, in accordance with federal privacy laws. Find out whether such limits apply to your platform of choice and whether you can give express permission that allows key individuals to access your data.
Distributing Documents to Other Individuals
Your estate attorney should always have the current copies of your estate plan documents. Make certain that the documents contain all the necessary signatures to make them legally valid and enforceable before you turn them over. You should keep your original documents and let your personal representatives and agents know where they are. Courts will usually accept originals on their face; however, copies usually have to be proved up.
Your personal representative or trustee should also receive copies of your estate plan and supporting documentation. This person will likely need immediate access to these documents upon your death to put your wishes into action in a timely manner, so the fewer the barriers to that access, the better.
Storing Your Documents
Don’t hide your will or other estate plan documentation in some impossible-to-guess location, no matter how secretive you may feel about its contents. Instead, maintain your privacy by placing those documents in a fireproof, water-resistant safe. This step will protect them from prying eyes as well as disasters.
Provide your attorney and personal representative with the combination or key to your safe. If, for any reason, you need to change the combination or key, inform those people about the changes immediately.
Ideal documents to include in a personal safe include any items that you or other interested parties may need to access quickly. Wills, birth certificates, death certificates, durable power of attorney documents, medical release forms, ownership titles, financial accounts and banking data all fall into this category.
Think twice before consigning any of these documents to a safe-deposit box. While the safe-deposit boxes kept in bank vaults offer maximum security, that same security can also cause complications for attorneys, executors, and other loved ones who might need the data stored there. Personal representatives need immediate access to your original Will and may not be allowed that access without first obtaining a Domiciliary Letter from the court.
The laws associated with the use of safe-deposit boxes typically require that anyone other than a sole box lessor must get a court order before gaining access. At the very least, name a co-lessor who can gain access to the box if you die or become disabled.
The Law Offices of Rick D. Steinberg, SC can help you navigate the many complexities of estate planning, from preparing the necessary documents to ensuring that the right people can make use of those documents at the proper times. Contact us today for a consultation.