If you are in the process of creating, or adding to, your estate plan, you will need to decide what to do with your estate planning documents when the plan is complete. Like most people, you probably keep other valuables in your safety deposit box, making that an obvious choice. The Oklahoma City estate planning attorneys at Parman & Easterday explain why your safety deposit box is not the safest place for your estate planning documents.
Your Estate Planning Documents
In many cases, an original copy (meaning one with an original signature in ink) of the document in question is required in order for the document to work as intended. For this reason, your estate planning documents should be kept together in a safe place. Understandably, the first place many people think of to store their estate planning documents is in their existing safety deposit box. After all, that’s probably where you keep valuable jewelry, deeds to property, stocks and bonds, and other valuables. At first glance, it makes perfect sense to put your estate planning documents in your safety deposit box as well. On closer inspection, however, your safety deposit box is not the best place for your estate planning documents.
The Conflict between Probate and a Safety Deposit Box
To understand why putting your estate planning documents in your safety deposit box may not be the best choice, you need to understand some probate basics. Shortly after your death, your estate needs to go through the legal process known as “probate.” Probate serves numerous purposes, such as identifying and securing your assets, authenticating your Will, and paying debts of the estate as well as litigating any claims against the estate and distributing assets to beneficiaries and/or heirs.
If you executed a Will prior to your death, you appointed someone to be the Executor of your estate. Your Executor is responsible for overseeing the probate process. To perform that job as intended, your appointed Executor must initiate the probate process with the appropriate court and petition the court to officially be appointed as your Executor. If the court approves the appointment, the court will issue Letters Testamentary which provide proof that the Executor has been appointed by the court and therefore has the authority to act on behalf of the estate.
The problem is that in order to initiate the probate process and secure the appointment as your Executor, an original copy of your Will must be submitted to the court. If your Will is in your safety deposit box, however, the bank won’t allow access to the box without proof that the individual seeking access is the Executor of your estate. This becomes a “chicken and egg” problem. Your chosen Executor cannot secure the necessary Letters Testamentary to act as your Executor without your Will – but he/she cannot access your Will without the Letters Testamentary.
Similar problems can crop up with other estate planning documents as well. For example, an Agent with your Power of Attorney may have the legal authority necessary to access your safety deposit box; however, if the POA document granting your Agent that authority is in the box, your Agent has no way to prove that he/she is your Agent.
Where Should I Keep My My Estate Planning Documents?
Now that you understand why your safety deposit box may not be the best place to keep your estate planning documents, the question becomes “where should I keep them?” First, it is always a good idea to execute more than one original copy of important documents. Ask your estate planning attorney to keep one set of original documents. Also give an original copy to anyone named to a fiduciary position within your plan. Your Executor should get an original copy of your Will. A Trustee should have an original copy of a trust agreement and an Agent needs an original copy of a Power of Attorney. Finally, an original set of documents should be kept at home in a fireproof safe and/or given to a trusted family member.
Contact Oklahoma City Estate Planning Attorneys
For additional information, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you have questions or concerns about estate planning, contact the experienced Oklahoma City estate planning attorneys at Parman & Easterday by calling 405-843-6100 or 913-385-9400 to schedule your appointment today.
· Last Will and Testament
· Trust agreement
· Power of attorney
· Life insurance policy
· Advance directive
If you put someone else’s name on the box while you were alive, they should be able to access the contents at any time. If not, it will become part of your estate and have to go through probate.
A Will becomes public record when submitted for probate. If you want the details of your plan to remain private, consider using a trust to distribute your estate because a trust does not go through probate.