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Congrats on Having an Estate Plan…But, Where Are You Storing It?

So, you’ve got an estate plan… congrats. You’re officially better prepared for the future than two-thirds of the population. According to new data, only 33% of US adults have drafted any kind of estate planning documents. This means that the other 67% are leaving the fate of their life’s work up to the impersonal dictates of state law. Tell me you’ve got no foresight without telling me you’ve got no foresight… right?

Having an estate plan is crucial, but it doesn’t mean much if your estate planning documents aren’t stored in a secure place. After all, should the original documents be lost or damaged, your estate plan may not stand up in court, and this means your loved ones could face a legal tangle like they’ve never imagined.  Billie Ray Hood’s story is a case in point.

Hood died in 2014. Five years later, her husband Jack followed. Now, in 2022, a debate is raging around her estate and the two separate Wills she left behind.

The first, written in 2003, left everything to her husband, who was not the father of her three children. The second, dated 2009, revises this decision and leaves her estate to her children.  Hood’s estate planning attorney had been entrusted with safeguarding the latter Will, and yet he failed to account for his dog’s appetite for estate planning documents.

The dog, Linus, didn’t mean ill when he snuck into the den, retrieved Hood’s 2009 Will, and devoured two and a half pages before leaving the rest strewn across the backyard. He’d never met Hood, held no ill will toward her loved ones, and yet—by turning her Will into a chew toy—he created a massive issue for her heirs.

Hood’s estate planning attorney had, of course, made a copy of her 2009 document. Nonetheless, her husband Jack’s daughter alleges that the copy should not be admitted to probate because Hood was not of sound mind when she executed the new Will. While this allegation does not affect the fact that only a copy of the 2009 Will exists, the lack of an original makes it much easier for Jack’s daughter to achieve her aim of having the document thrown out of court.

The solution here is obvious: don’t leave your will within reach of mischievous pets. Don’t store it anywhere where it may be vulnerable to being lost or destroyed (by pets or humans). Basements flood, houses burn down, dogs eat anything they can access, and all of these say a lot about where not to store your estate planning documents.

So, Where Should You Store Your Estate Planning Documents?

The simple answer is somewhere safe, secure, and logical. This might mean a waterproof, fire-resistant safe at home or a safety deposit box at your bank.  Wherever you store your estate planning documents, however, it is crucial that your loved ones be able to access them when you are gone.  

Those who store their vital documents at home should make numerous copies of relevant keys and combinations. If using a safety deposit box, it is important to work with your bank to ensure a trusted loved one has access.  And, those named in your estate plan should know where your documents are stored, and how they may be accessed.

Last, any revoked documents should be destroyed such that there is no chance of a scenario similar to the one described above.

To learn more about building a safe and secure estate Ppan, do not hesitate to reach out to The Law Firm of Blanche D. Smith either by calling (936) 301-0111 or using the contact form on our website.

Monique Hineline

Smith & Smith are very professional, informative, and relatable with examples and stories to ease the estate planning process. I had the best time at their lunch and learn. Even if you already have your estate planning in place I highly recommend attending a lunch and learn. Thanks Smith & Smith!