Congratulations, you have completed the very important step of preparing your Estate Planning documents. But now what? Where should you keep these documents so that they can be found and used when needed? Let’s explore the options:
A will can be filed with the court
The Texas Estates Code, Chapter 252 provides a procedure for those wanting to deposit a will with the clerk of the court for safekeeping in the county in which they reside at such time.
The sole purpose of depositing a will with the clerk of the court is to provide safe and convenient repository and has no legal significance. The will is not recorded or filed and it will not be treated any differently for purposes of probate than one not deposited with the court. The cost of depositing a will with the clerk of the court is $5. A deposited will is not public record and may only be withdrawn by the testator or other individuals that the testator named at the time of making the deposit.
If you do deposit your will with the clerk of the court, do note that the clerk will not notify anyone of their receipt of the will. It will be your responsibility to tell your beneficiaries or executor that the will has been deposited with the clerk of the court for safekeeping.
The above procedure is only available for wills. You will still need a secure but accessible place to store your other estate planning documents, such as a trust or powers of attorney.
Estate planning documents can be stored in your home
Perhaps the most common place people choose to keep their estate planning documents is at home. A secure but accessible place somewhere in your home is one of the best choices. If you choose to keep your estate planning documents at home, be sure to choose a place that is protected from floods and fire, such as a waterproof and fireproof safe (just be sure somebody knows the safe code).
Estate planning documents can be stored in a safe deposit box
Many individuals choose to keep their estate planning documents in a safe deposit box. While safe deposit boxes are very secure, they may be difficult for your family, beneficiaries, or fiduciaries to access. The Texas Estates Code, Chapter 151 permits a spouse, parent, or adult child of a deceased person to search a safe deposit box for documents left in it for safe keeping without the necessity of a court order. In addition, a person named as the executor is permitted to search the safe deposit box if they can produce a copy of a document that appears to be the will of the deceased person and it names them as executor. Quite often, however, the bank will refuse to allow the search and requires a court order, ordering it to do so.
If you choose to store your estate planning documents in a safe deposit box, be sure to list additional persons that you would like to access your safe deposit box to withdraw them. You also want to keep a detailed record of pertinent information, specifying where the safe deposit box is located, who has access to it, and where the key to the box can be found by those individuals named in your estate planning documents.
Copies of estate planning documents can be stored digitally
The original versions of all your estate planning documents should be kept in a safe place so they are easy to locate when needed. But what if these documents are lost or damaged during a flood or fire, or need to be produced quickly in an emergency? Digital copies may be used to carry out your wishes.
Digital copies can be easily shared, so copies can be provided to your doctors and included in your medical records, your bank and any other financial institutions, and to the individuals you have chosen to make decisions on your behalf.
Digital copies should only be used as a backup in the event originals are destroyed or lost. Most importantly, the court will only accept the original version of your will, not a copy, so it is critical that you keep your original estate planning documents safe and accessible.
Regardless of where you keep your estate planning documents, remember that they are worthless if no one knows where to find them. If estate planning documents are unable to be produced in the event of a death or medical emergency, not only is crucial time lost, but the wishes of an individual could be left unmet. You should tell your beneficiaries or executor where they are located, how to access them, and have been granted access if needed.