Your new estate plan is finished and signed, and you’ve been given the originals to keep at home. But where should you keep your estate planning documents now? There’s really no right answer to this question, but there are several considerations which may help you make the best choice for you.
In my opinion, a fireproof lock box in your primary residence is the best option for the secure storage of your new estate planning documents. It allows you to maintain total control of your estate planning documents, while also providing a significant level of protection from most likely risks: theft, fire, and water damage. As long as you’re able to shares the means of entrance (key or passcode) to a trusted loved one or one of the named fiduciaries in your estate plan, your documents will be accessible when they’re needed most. If you pass away, your family need only open the box to retrieve the estate planning documents inside.
While not as secure as the fireproof lock box for instances of fire, theft, or water damage, the “place where you keep important things” will at least allow your family to be pointed in the right direction in their search for your estate planning documents. This preference comes down to risk tolerance, ultimately. If you’re willing to run the risk that something outside your control may inadvertently destroy your documents, this location is certainly better than many others, and satisfies the state’s presumption that the original will would be found among the creator’s important papers.
A safety deposit box at a bank for the storage of estate planning documents seems like a “no-brainer” but it carries a lot of risk with the protection it otherwise provides. Sure, the safety deposit box is secure from theft, fire, and water damage, but the downside comes when you pass away – i.e., when you need the documents most and are no longer able to get them yourself. What most people don’t realize is that, in North Carolina, the safety deposit box becomes sealed after its owner dies. The only person with the legal authority to open the box is the Clerk of Court in the county where you reside. However, if the Clerk opens the box, the Clerk must also inventory and submit the contents of the box to probate – forcing an estate administration strategy that we may not otherwise want.