Clients often ask: What do I do with my estate planning documents now that I’ve signed them?
Short answer: DON’T LOSE THEM! Truth is, there are a number of good ways of safe keeping your estate planning documents, including storing them in a safe deposit box; filing your will with the court; or keeping them in a waterproof and flame retardant safe at your home.
Let’s explore each of these options further.
Safe Deposit Box
A safe deposit box is often used to keep valuables and important documents, like estate planning documents, because they are designed to withstand natural disasters such as fires, floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes, plus they have the protections and security that are typical of banks.
While safe deposit boxes are very secure, they may be difficult for your beneficiaries or fiduciaries to access if they are not a authorized user or owner. In fact, many banks won’t allow access unless you are the owner or co-owner of the safe deposit box. However, Section 151.003 of the Texas Estates Code allows for the examination of contents of a safe deposit box by a decedent’s spouse, parent of decedent, an adult descendant of the decedent, and person(s) named as executor of the decedent’s estate in a copy of a document that the person has and that appears to be a will of the decedent. Section 151.003 does not guarantee an examination of contents of a safety deposit box. If, however, a bank denies examination of contents of a safe deposit box, Section 151.001 of the Texas Estates Code, allows for a person to petition a court and get an order appointing a court representative to examine the contents of the safe deposit box. If upon examination of the safe deposit box by the court representative, a will is found, Section 151.002 allows delivery of the will to the clerk of the court so that it may be probated. We hace drilled many a safety deposit box on court order.
MORAL: if you use a safety deposit box to store your estate planning documents make your executor or Trustee an authorized user of the safety deposit box.
Filing With Court
Another option for safe keeping a will, is to deposit the original will with the county clerk of the county of where the testator (person who executed the will) resided. When an original will is deposited with the county clerk, it is not recorded or filed; but rather, the will is given a certificate number, placed in a sealed wrapper, and kept in a secure storage area. The sole purpose of depositing a will with the county clerk is to provide safe and convenient repository; there is no legal significance. A deposited will is not public record and may only be withdrawn by the testator or other individuals that the testator named at the time of making the deposit.
One downside of depositing a will with a county clerk, is that the clerk will not notify anyone of their receipt of the will. It is entirely up to the testator to notify their executor and others that there will has been deposited with the county clerk.
Storing At Home
Perhaps the most common place people choose to keep their estate planning documents, is at home. TCV provides each client with a binder to hold documents relevant to your estate plan and storing that binder in your home safe (most Texans have a gun safe which works great) provides easy accessibility; however, it may not be the safest if you believe one of your beneficiaries has access and may change or destroy your documents. We recently had a case where a beneficiary brought us a “copy” of the Will which had a page inserted which contained a provision leaving all of the estate to the beneficiary instead of the 1/3 our copy of the document contained.
MORAL: If you choose to keep your estate planning documents at home, it is wise to store them in a location that would be protected from floods and fire, such as a waterproof and fireproof safe. Don’t give the combination to anyone who may destroy or alter the documents.
Regardless of where you keep your estate planning documents, remember that they are worthless if no one knows where to find them. We do not think it is necessarily a good idea to give a copy of your will or trust to your executor or Trustee because you could change your mind and then there are multiple copies of wills or trusts out there. Instead we recommend you tell the executor or Trustee and/or your loved ones WHERE they can find the documents whether that is in a safety deposit box, in the county clerk’s office or at home. Our office keeps an electronic copy of all documents we create so if all else fails your executor or Trustee can probate the copy of the will or trust our office keeps if for whatever reason the original is lost. Informing your loved ones of our firm name or the firm name who helped create the documents is advisable.
Whether you’ve recently lost a loved one and need help accessing their estate planning documents, or you already have possession of their documents and need assistance sorting out what to do next, the attorneys at TCV Law Group are ready to help. Please contact us at 512.263.5400 or firstname.lastname@example.org, and let us assist you with carrying out your loved one’s wishes.