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How to Store Your Estate Planning Documents Securely

Posted by Daniel J. Eccher, Esq. | Feb 08, 2022

After you've finished an estate plan, to ensure it will be around when it's needed, you should carefully store your documents such that they are easy to find but kept private while protected from damage. 

Depending on your situation, you'll likely focus on storing these and other documents:

Estate plan Related paperwork
A last will and testament Titles: houses, vehicles, etc.
An advance directive for health-care or living will IDs (Social Security card, passport), medical records
A durable power of attorney Financial account information (bank, retirement, etc.)
A trust agreement Certificates: birth, marriage, divorce, etc.

You might have signed an original will and at least two living wills, powers of attorney, or trust agreements. You may want to give a copy to the Personal Representative in your will, a trustee of a trust, or your agent under Power of Attorney. You might need more original Powers of Attorney to give to a bank or another financial institution. 

The most private, secure spot for original documents is a fireproof filing cabinet or a safe. This type of storage will involve giving someone you trust a spare key, a security code, or a combination for access. 

In some states, a safe deposit box at a bank could be closed upon your death until any probate proceedings have begun. This policy may pose a problem to someone who needs access to an original will to open probate, but they may not have access if the will is in a safe deposit box. Maine law lets agents access safe deposit boxes or vaults at banks or other financial institutions under a Power of Attorney that legally authorizes them to do so, but a Power of Attorney terminates at death. Also, bank safe deposit boxes aren’t fire or waterproof or entirely secure from theft. The FDIC, the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), or any financial institution doesn't insure items stored in safe deposit boxes. 
 
Apart from your estate plan, your legacy may also extend to:

  • Social media accounts
  • Personal or business websites
  • A computer, smartphone, tablet PC, or other devices
  • Bills you pay regularly

You can notify beneficiaries of your estate plan about these items, such as through a letter of intent, and store information about them, too.

Electronic Estate Planning Document Storage

A backup online or on a computer storage drive can be convenient, especially if you review your estate plan regularly. To create clear, easy to print files for digital safekeeping, scan them with a document scanner. 

A drawback to electronic storage is that your data might not be private, especially if you let others use your computer. Hackers can also exploit potential security flaws in internet-connected Mac and Windows operating systems and in online ("cloud") storage services. Among the safest electronic storage methods is an encrypted or password-protected external hard drive or a USB stick kept offline. 

Store your electronic files on at least three different drives in case something happens to one of them. 

If you choose digital storage, you may also need to keep a list of usernames and passwords for access. If you decide to store your information online, add website addresses to the list. Keep login details on paper with your other estate plan paperwork and any external drives.

Why You Should Keep Your Estate Plan Safe

An estate plan contains some of the most sensitive data about your life. However you choose to store your documents, only you and people you trust should know where they are. Your estate plan is a valuable investment in your legacy and worth the effort to keep it safe from harm.

If you need advice on storing your estate planning documents, we would be happy to help you. Contact us online or call us today: 207-377-6966.

About the Author

Daniel J. Eccher, Esq.

Daniel J. Eccher, Esq. is the Managing Shareholder at Levey, Wagley, Putman & Eccher, P.A., in Winthrop, Maine. Dan's favorite problem to solve is helping clients figure out how to afford long-term care while having something left for their family.

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