Once your estate planning documents are finished and signed, you need to store them securely but also be able to access them when needed.
For most people, storing these documents in a safe deposit box is not necessary and may actually cause issues if you should pass and no one can access the documents when needed.
There are many other options for storing your documents securely at home. Fire-safe and waterproof lockboxes are one option. Home safes, which come in various sizes, materials, and price points, are another. Some people feel perfectly fine creating a labeled folder in their filing cabinet and storing estate planning documents there.
However you decide to store your documents, you should keep in mind that your method should ideally be:
- Secure – only you and your authorized agent(s) can access them.
- Accessible – your method should be accessible when it’s necessary; don’t make it a puzzle!
- Fire-proof – in the case of a fire, you don’t want your documents to be destroyed. Look at options that will protect against fire damage as well as the high temperatures from a house fire.
- Waterproof – water is just as damaging to your documents as fire, especially if there’s a flood in the home. Many lockboxes available today are both fire-safe and waterproof, so make sure you read the label and the guarantees on the box before purchasing.
When thinking about accessibility, you don’t want your crucial documents to be lost in a maze or puzzle. You want your agents to be able to access them at need. You should also inform your agents where the documents are located and how to access them.
For medical documents, such as advance directives or powers of attorney, copies of those should be accessible in case of an emergency.
The File of Life is one option, which is a bright red magnet to go on the fridge with a slot for a file card or copies of a document to stay. It’s easily visible for a medical emergency professional who comes into the home and easily accessible for an agent or relative to grab on the way out the door in an emergency.
You can also create a file folder and label it with colored marker or some other highly visible option and put all your medical planning documents there. The most important thing is that your agent either has a copy for their own records or they know where and how to access the documents in your home – or even both.
If you have any questions, ask your estate planning professional for advice. They will be more than happy to help!