According to Caring.com’s 2019 survey, 57 percent of U.S. adults do not currently have estate planning documents such as a will or living trust. If you are among the 43 percent who have created an estate plan, congratulations on taking the necessary steps to provide peace of mind for yourself and for your family.
Now that you have signed your estate planning documents, there are a few more steps to make the process as smooth as possible for your loved ones upon your death or incapacity.
Where should I keep my documents?
As an estate planning attorney, many years ago I commonly advised my clients to keep their original estate planning documents in a safe deposit box. However, I no longer recommend this strategy because I have discovered how unlikely you are to review your documents when they are kept in a safe deposit box. You might be surprised at how many people have wills in place from decades ago, perhaps at a time when their children were minors and they were planning a vacation. Clearly, life circumstances will inevitably change. Further, the laws may change in a way that could affect your plan. For this reason, it is important to review your documents every 2-3 years, or immediately following a significant life event such as a birth or death in your immediate family.
In most situations, the ideal location for your original estate planning documents is a fire-proof safe at home so that they are easily accessible to you and to your family when needed. Of course, it is essential that you notify at least one trusted individual of the location of your documents along with instructions for gaining access.
Should I provide copies of my documents to family members or others?
It is generally advisable to inform family members of their various roles, including guardians for minor children, personal representatives (“executors”), trustees, financial agents and health care agents. However, the decision as to whether or not you should provide these individuals will full copies of your documents will depend on your personal circumstances. Often, the details of your estate plan will change as the years go by. Therefore, before providing complete copies (particularly of your will or living trust), you should consider whether you would be comfortable requesting the return of these copies at some time in the future along with an explanation as to why your documents were revised.
With regard to health care documents such as your health care power of attorney, living will and HIPAA authorization, you should file copies with your health care provider(s) so that they are available in the event of an emergency. Further, be aware that if you sign new health care documents in the future, you may have revoked and replaced any previously executed health care documents.
It is now relatively common practice for estate planning attorneys to provide clients with digital copies of their estate planning documents, making the task of delivering copies or even storing them in a password-protected online file convenient. However, be aware that, in Wisconsin, your original will must be filed with the court upon your death. If you are interested in filing your original will with the court in advance, you should contact the Register in Probate’s office in your county of residence.
Is there any additional information my family members will need?
Along with your estate planning legal documents, I also suggest maintaining the following information, updated regularly:
– A list of key advisors such as your estate planning attorney, accountant, financial advisor, life insurance agent, home and auto insurance agent, bank and employer.
– Information regarding your primary health care provider and health insurance.
– A list of relatives and close friends to contact, including phone numbers, mailing addresses and email addresses.
– Burial and funeral instructions, including information regarding any pre-paid funeral policies.
As to all aspects of estate planning, it is important to keep in mind that your plan is truly the ultimate gift for your loved ones and should be maintained as such.