By Elizabeth A. Caruso, Esq.
Myth or Fact? Once your estate plan is signed you should put it in a safe deposit box with all your other important papers.
This is a MYTH!
Owning a safe deposit box is a great way to protect valuables and important documents, however, depending on the ownership of the box, it a very problematic place to store your estate plan.
When you pass away, your safe deposit box is treated as any other bank account for ownership purposes. If there are multiple owners on the box, the surviving owners retain ownership and the box passes to them without the need for probate court intervention. What if only one person’s name is on the box? Then the box is subject to going through probate to determine the rightful owners. Now imagine that your estate plan, including your original Last Will and Testament, is in that box. If the box is subject to probate, then no one can access it until a Personal Representative has been appointed, but if the Last Will and Testament is in the box, it is inaccessible to file with the probate court until a Personal Representative has been appointed. The issue with this situation is pretty clear and can make for a mess for your loved ones.
There are petitions that can be filed with the probate court that can remedy this predicament, but those are just adding extra court time and expense that can easily be avoided by keeping your estate plan somewhere else. We suggest keeping your estate plan in your home with your other important papers in a fire and waterproof safe or filing cabinet. We also recommend keeping electronic copies in the cloud or on an external hard drive. Lastly, we recommend telling your loved ones, especially those who are appointed as your fiduciaries in these documents, where the documents are located and how they can access them. You can even send electronic copies of the documents to your proposed fiduciaries so they have a clear understanding of your goals and wishes during your lifetime.