You’ve signed your US estate planning documents…now, where do they go?

26 February 2024 | Applicable law: US | 2 minute read

A question we are often asked by clients at the tail end of the estate planning process is where to store original documents. The answer is: wherever they are safe but also accessible. Below are a few options we recommend for the safekeeping of your documents:

Attorney will vault

  • Many estate planning attorneys, including Withers, offer the option to maintain your original estate planning documents for safekeeping in an offsite vault. If placed in the Withers vault, we can easily and quickly access the original documents when needed. To ensure peace of mind for clients, attorneys in California are required to follow procedures established by the California Probate Code for the safekeeping and preservation of original estate planning documents. 

At home

  • Another common option is for clients to keep their original estate planning documents at home or at their office in a location where they can be easily accessed when needed. A fire and flood proof safe or box is optimal, so long as it can be accessed by people you trust (i.e., an access key, password, or where the safe or box is located, etc.). Do not leave its discovery to chance in the moment of need.

Safe deposit box

  • If you prefer to retain original documents in a bank safe deposit box, make sure that whoever you have named as a Trustee or Executor has legal access to the box. This can be done by either transferring the ownership of the safe deposit box to the Trust, or adding the Trust as a “pay on death” beneficiary of the box. 
  • Oftentimes the financial institution will require the individual requesting access to the box to provide proof they are authorized to do so (vis a vis the Trust or a Power of Attorney), and if the documents are only located in the safe deposit box, then your decisionmaker is out of luck! Otherwise, the financial institution at which the box is held will not allow any person to access the box upon your death without a court order. 
  • Each financial institution has different requirements. We recommend contacting your designated financial institution to ensure accessibility upon your incapacity or death. 

At Withers, a client’s estate plan is not finalized until we know how the original estate planning documents are to be stored. You’ve spent hours crafting a plan that protects your family, and the same commitment should be made to ensure the documents are stored safely for when they’re needed in the future. Please feel free to call us if you have any questions on the proper storage of your documents.

This document (and any information accessed through links in this document) is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from any action as a result of the contents of this document.


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