How to Store Estate Planning Documents

June 14, 2024
Keeping up-to-date records of important documents in an accessible place is essential to effective estate planning.

Even after you finalize your will, trust documents, and other estate-planning details, there's one more important step to take: finding a safe, accessible place to store it all—and communicating its location to the relevant people.

"It may seem obvious, but you'd be surprised how many estate owners fail to think this through—leaving heirs scrambling to track down essential information amid their grief," says Austin Jarvis, director of estate, trust, and high-net-worth tax at the Schwab Center for Financial Research. He suggests the following three steps to make the process easier.

Step 1: Get your documents together

Create or track down physical copies of:

  • All relevant legal documents, including:
    • Advance directives for health care 
    • Last will and testament
    • Powers of attorney (POAs)
    • Trust documents
  • Assets and liabilities: Make a list of your financial and physical assets and all debts, including their dollar value, if available.
  • Life insurance policies: Highlight the cash value and death benefits for ease of review.

Step 2: Decide where to store them

It's best to store originals in either a fireproof safe or a safe deposit box, with the documents placed inside a water-resistant plastic pouch. In most states your POA can give your agent the power to access your safe deposit box, but that power must be explicitly mentioned. Also, your agent must have the original POA to access the safe deposit box, so don't store the document there.

"A safe deposit box can be a good place for your will and a thumb drive with digital copies of important documents, whereas a fireproof safe may be better for documents you might need to access more quickly, such as health care directives or POAs," Austin says.

Step 3: Have a backup plan

Storing copies of important documents in an alternate location—such as with your executor or an adult child—can save a lot of heartache should you lose access to the originals. "Estate planning is all about preparing for the unexpected, so creating backup copies is a natural part of that," Austin says.

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The information provided here is for general informational purposes only and should not be considered an individualized recommendation or personalized investment advice. The investment strategies mentioned here may not be suitable for everyone. Each investor needs to review an investment strategy for his or her own particular situation before making any investment decision.

All expressions of opinion are subject to change without notice in reaction to shifting market conditions. Data contained herein from third-party providers is obtained from what are considered reliable sources. However, its accuracy, completeness, or reliability cannot be guaranteed.

Examples provided are for illustrative purposes only and not intended to be reflective of results you can expect to achieve.

The information and content provided herein is general in nature and is for informational purposes only. It is not intended, and should not be construed, as a specific recommendation, individualized tax, legal, or investment advice. Tax laws are subject to change, either prospectively or retroactively. Where specific advice is necessary or appropriate, individuals should contact their own professional tax and investment advisors or other professionals (CPA, Financial Planner, Investment Manager) to help answer questions about specific situations or needs prior to taking any action based upon this information.

The Schwab Center for Financial Research is a division of Charles Schwab & Co., Inc.