Long Island Estate Planning: How to Store Your Documents

Each time a client walks out of our Long Island elder law office with their original document binder in hand we are sure to remind them to not keep those documents in a bank’s safe deposit box. Why is this so important? Unfortunately, there are certain circumstances when accessing your planning documents will need to be done so immediately. Although keeping them in a safe deposit box appears to be the most secure option, it may lead to various obstacles at a time when accessing them quickly is crucial.

For example, consider a health crisis occurs. Your family may need immediate access to documents like your health care proxy and living will. Now imagine that all of your planning documents are stored in a safety deposit box at the bank. Do your family members know which bank and which branch they will need to go to? What if it is a weekend or after hours and the bank is closed? Do your family members have the legal authority to access your safe deposit box in the first place? There are far too many problems that can arise by keeping your documents stored in a place where your trusted relatives or friends might not be able to access them right away. The same problems will likely arise in other critical situations like a mental disability crisis, for example. In the event you are suddenly unable to make decisions for yourself, someone else will have to begin making the decisions for you and will need your Durable Power of Attorney, but what if they do not have easy access to those documents? Storing your documents in a safe deposit box at the bank may also have implications after death. Many states freeze the box at the time of the death and a court order may be required to have the box opened. In the worst case scenario, your family may never be able to regain access to the documents stored in the box.

If a safe deposit box is not the best place to keep your planning documents, then where should they be stored? It is most advisable to keep them at your home in a safe, protected file cabinet or if that is not desirable then at your attorney’s office. And then make sure your friends and family know how and where to access them if ever needed. In regard to your original Last Will and Testament, be sure to never unstaple that document as the Surrogate’s Court will require proof that the Will was not tampered with if it occurs. In addition, New York law presumes that you destroyed and revoked your Will if it was last in your possession and can no longer be located. Ultimately this would mean that there is no Will to be probated upon your passing. Storing your documents in a safe place that can be easily accessed by the people you trust is crucial to ensure that your planning wishes are timely met.

Please contact your Long Island estate planning lawyer if you have any questions about these important guidelines.