It is important to keep your original estate planning documents such as your will or trust in a safe place, however, a safe deposit box may not always be the best choice. This is because your estate planning documents need to be in a place that is not only secure, but accessible. A safe deposit box while secure, can become inaccessible following your death.
When you die, the bank will often require a court order to give your Personal Representative (executor) access if the safe deposit box is in your name alone. For example, American Savings Bank will allow access to your Personal Representative, but may require "certified copies of valid Letters Testamentary or other court order." This means that your estate planning documents will sit in your safe deposit box until the court appoints a Personal Representative, which could take months. Your estate planning documents does no good if it can't be accessed in a timely manner. Even if you didn't die, but became incapacitated, your power of attorney, advance health care directive, or trust would be useless if they are locked in an inaccessible safe deposit box.
If you choose to store your estate planning documents in a safe deposit box, consider having a joint owner. Clearly, this person should be trustworthy as he or she will have access not only when you die, but when you're alive. Your Personal Representative (executor) or successor trustee is an obvious choice. Another option is to title the box in the name of your trust. Check with your bank if this is an option as not all banks allow this. Another option is to keep your original estate planning documents in a safe in your home that is fire-proof and water-proof. Be sure that a trusted individual has the code or key to the safe.
Whichever option you choose, it is important that your estate planning documents are not only in a safe place, but also in a place that is easily accessible should you become incapacitated or deceased.
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