The question of where to keep original estate planning documents and whether copies should also be kept is a question that is often asked toward the end of the estate planning process.  Not to avoid the question, but the answer to it really depends upon the individuals and the estate plan.

Typically, people will keep all of the original signed estate planning documents, e.g., Trust, Wills, Powers of Attorney, Medical Directives, etc. all in one binder.  This is logical because keeping all of the originals in one place ensures you and your family will know where to find them.  Sometimes, the attorney who drafts the estate planning documents will keep, in custody, the original estate planning documents.  This can be a free benefit to the client; however, often times such services are offered to clients for free to encourage the client to return for subsequent estate planning needs.  It also makes it more likely that upon your incapacity or death, successor trustees or executors (named in your documents) will have to go back to the drafting attorney for the originals and thus it is more likely that these individuals will retain the drafting attorney for administration of the trust and estate after the client’s death.  As an alternative to having the drafting attorney keep the original signed estate planning documents, this blog offers a few more ideas.

The original Trust documents and Wills can be stored in places like bank safe deposit boxes, home fire and theft proof safes, or any other location that is fire and theft proof.  These documents are not needed as often as other estate planning documents such as, Powers of Attorney and Medical Directives.  If you store the originals in a safe location, make sure to keep copies of the Trust documents and the Wills at your home.  In some instances, you can even give copies of the documents to your family members. However, whether to give copies to family members is a personal choice and depends on your family dynamics. If you are considering giving copies to your family members, you should obtain the advice of your estate planning attorney prior to doing so.  (Also note: If you do provide copies of your estate planning documents to family members, friends, or physicians, be sure to make a note of whom you have given them to so that if/when you update them in the future you can make sure to send those individuals the updated versions).

As noted above, some people store their original Powers of Attorney and Medical Directives either with the drafting attorney or else in a fire and theft secure location such as a bank safe deposit box.  However, this may not be the best location for the originals of these two documents.  The reason is because Powers of Attorney are likely to be needed at a time when you need help because you cannot make financial decisions for yourself and the Medical Directive may be needed in an emergency when you are not in a position to make health care decisions for yourself.  For example, what if you were involved in a car accident on Sunday while traveling across county and you are unconscious on your way to the hospital, the agent(s) under both your Power of Attorney and Medical Directive may need to send money and make life saving medical decisions for you. In order to do so, they may need  immediate access to the original documents.  One idea is to have the originals kept with your agents but this can result in abuse (a discussion left for another blog) or loss or destruction of your documents  Another option would be to keep the originals in a fire proof safe at your home and ensure that your agents know how to access these two documents.  As an added note, you should also make sure that your primary physician and local hospital have a copy of your most recent and updated Medical Directive in your medical file as this can be useful for your emergency care.

Ultimately, there are several options for where to keep your original estate planning documents.  The decision of where to keep the original documents should not be taken lightly as the original documents are extremely important.  (The reasons why the original documents are important will be the topic of another blog.) The location of your original estate planning documents is an important decision and is often overlooked in the estate planning process.  Anyone interested in further information about where they should keep their original estate planning documents should contact their attorney or Chilina Law Firm or another attorney who practices in the area of Trusts and Estates for further information.

Authored by Karen Chilina and Co-Authored by Greg Chilina

Chilina Law Firm, a Professional Corporation, is a full-service estate planning, probate, trust administration, business law, and real property law firm that provides a wide-range of advising, transactional, and litigation services to its clients from its office located in Atascadero, California. The firm’s attorneys represent individuals and business entities in an assortment of transactional and litigation matters involving estate planning (including trusts, wills, powers of attorney, and medical directives), probate, trust administration, as well as general business law, contracts, corporate governance, land use, and real property. Chilina Law can be contacted by telephone at (805) 538-5038 or by email at or visit the Chilina Law Firm at Chilina Law Firm is based in Atascadero, California and serves North San Luis Obispo County communities, including Santa Margarita, Atascadero, Templeton, Paso Robles, and San Miguel.

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