While Californians are advised to take the necessary steps to have a coherent and well-organized estate plan, the basics are sometimes lost on them. The most foundational matter after moving forward with the document itself and having all the "I's" dotted and the "T's" crossed is to know where it is and be prepared for the time when heirs will need to find these documents. It might sound like a silly dispute, but litigation can result if the estate plan documents are nowhere to be found. With this in mind, there are certain steps to take.
People should keep the original documents in a safe location. The court might be reluctant to take copies or digital files to replace the originals. This is particularly true if the estate is being contested. This can degenerate into an unwinnable argument. It might also be necessary to have original copies of health care proxies and a power of attorney. These documents should be maintained in a sealed envelope with a notation as to what it is. Keeping them at home in a fireproof location is a good way to preserve them. A safe deposit box might seem like a good idea, but there could be problems accessing it after the person has died.
Those who are integral to the plan need to have copies. This includes a legal professional, an accountant and a financial advisor. There should be a copy stowed safely with someone who has no personal interest in the outcome. Family members who can be trusted should also have copies, especially if they are the ones who will make the decision if the person becomes incapacitated. Having a disclosure of what is located where can help with finding the papers as quickly as possible. Telling someone apart from the spouse is a sound piece of advice. Finally, when the will or other document has been updated, this should be the version that is retained with older versions destroyed. Keeping the older versions will inevitably cause confusion and a likely dispute.
Whether it is simple or complex estate planning, asset protection and the sanctity of the documents and their intent is paramount. As with any estate planning matter, a lawyer is of high importance. When preparing an estate plan, that is the first call that should be made before anything else.
Source: CNBC, "Take this secret to the grave, and it'll cost you," Kelli B. Grant, April 6, 2017