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Monday, May 23, 2011

Storing your documents in a safe place

Last week I met with some clients to review their existing wills. I met them in their bank branch because they planned to take the documents out of the safe deposit box at the branch, and it would be convenient for all of us to then meet right there. However, when they opened the box they discovered their documents weren't in it. I was concerned, but they assured me that really the documents could be anywhere, they really couldn't remember, and they had only guessed that maybe they'd stored them in the safe deposit box.

I wish this was an unusual situation. However, plenty of clients over the years have told me that they really can't remember where their original wills were being kept. This is troublesome, since it seems to me that if the client himself can't locate the will, there isn't much hope that the executor will ever find it.

The bank safe deposit box is a good place to store important legal documents such as your original wills. Perhaps these clients intended to store theirs there but never got around to it.

Other good storage places are the vault at your lawyer's office (if they offer that service - not all wills lawyers do), the vault at your trust company or a locked safe in your own home.

Less appropriate (but unfortunately still popular) storage places are: an unlocked cabinet in your home, your sock drawer, in the trunk of your car, under the mattress or in the freezer. When someone hides their will in a safe place that nobody but he can find, he forgets that when the will is needed, he's the only one who won't be around to say where the document can be found.

Wherever you choose to store your will, you should choose a place that keeps your document safe from fire, water, theft or loss. It's also important to protect it from nosy people who have no business reading it. Balance the need for safe-keeping against the need for the original document to be found once you have passed away.

At the time your will is made, there will be only one original document. It might be a good idea to photocopy the will and write on the copy something that indicates the location of the original. Then years later when you take out your copy to refresh yourself on what's in your will, you will also remind yourself of where it's being stored.

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