Your estate plan protects your family, yourself, and your assets for the future. It represents an investment of significant time and energy. Now that you have it in hand, what should you do with it? Is there a best place to store estate planning documents?
Recent hurricanes, tornados, fires, and floods in the news graphically demonstrate how sudden, unexpected events can destroy personal belongings. Estate planning documents also can be lost or misplaced, due to lack of care in choosing a place to store them (or intentionally “hiding” them).
If you do not safeguard your plan, all that hard work you invested in creating it might be wasted. Your family may not be able to implement your carefully crafted estate plan. To understand how that might occur, consider what happens if no one can locate your will after your death.
Michigan law requires presentation of the original executed will for probate. A copy of the will is not acceptable, except in some very limited circumstances. If the original will is not available, someone must petition the probate court to request validation of a copy (if one is available).
In the court proceeding, a legal presumption exists that the testator (person creating a will) intentionally destroyed or revoked the original document. To overcome that presumption, the petitioning party must provide the court with proof of several relevant facts.
In the absence of the required proof, the court will not validate the copy. In that case, statutory rules of intestate succession determine distribution of the estate. State law, not the deceased person, decides who gets the estate property. The same result occurs if the original will cannot be located and a copy is not available.
Many Michigan probate courts permit a testator (the person making the will) to deposit the original for safekeeping with the court in the county where probate will occur (usually where the testator lives). If you live in Ann Arbor or elsewhere in Washtenaw County, you can deposit your original will with the Washtenaw County Probate Court. You should talk with your estate planning attorney about this possibility when you create your estate plan.
Now you know why you need to find a safe and accessible place to store your estate plan. But where should you keep it?
In truth, there is no best place or single answer for everyone. To keep your plan safe from all risks, including fire and water (from both flooding and water leaks), there are two good options — a safe deposit box and a home safe. But you need to take precautions if you choose either option.
A safe deposit box is often the first place people think of for storing an estate plan. However, it is not necessarily the best choice. Your box (and therefore your plan, which probably includes your final wishes) may not be immediately accessible on your death.
Michigan has laws that govern opening a safe deposit box belonging to a deceased person. In many cases, a court order is necessary to access the box after the owner dies. The statute also addresses examination of the box contents and removal of items from the box.
If you want to store your estate planning documents in your safe deposit box, talk with your attorney about how to make sure that your safe deposit box will be accessible immediately after your death. You can take steps to ensure that someone can access to your estate plan when necessary.
If you store your documents in a safe deposit box, be sure to tell one or two people you trust that the originals are in the box, as well as where the box is located. You should also give someone that you trust a copy of your plan.
A home safe that protects documents against fire and water damage is a good choice for storing your estate plan. You should choose a safe that is fireproof and waterproof.
If you put your estate plan in a home safe, make sure you tell one or two people that you trust where your estate plan documents and the safe are located. You also should share the combination to the safe with at least one person. Logical choices are your designated personal representative (executor) or your trustee or successor trustee (if a trust is part of your estate plan).
It is also a good idea to provide a copy of your estate plan to at least one of the people who would have access to your original estate planning documents. Just remember, if you give a copy to anyone, you need to retrieve that copy if you change any part of your estate plan.
You should maintain digital copies of all of your important documents, including your estate plan. You can store the copies in the virtual cloud or on a separate drive. Storing them directly on your computer may not be a good idea if your computer crashes, your documents may be lost.
Wherever you decide to keep your estate plan, keep these important points in mind:
If you take these precautions, you protect your estate plan and ensure that it will be available when it really matters.
In my practice at Ager Law Office, I assist individuals and families with all aspects of estate planning. A thoughtful, sound estate plan is essential to protect your family, yourself, and your assets.
From my Ann Arbor office, I serve clients throughout Washtenaw County. To talk with me about a new estate plan or about updating your existing plan, call (734) 649-0784, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or use the online contact form.