Where should you keep estate-planning documents prepared by your attorney? Where should people expect to find your living trust, will, durable power of attorney and advance health care directive? You want to be sure that those documents stay safe and can be easily found when your family needs to find them.
For those of you in California, I suggest that you do not keep them in a safe deposit box at the bank. They will be safe there, but not accessible when urgently needed.
Your safe deposit box won’t be easy for your friends or family to open it if you’re not there. This is true even if they are co-owners of the box. Having the key isn’t enough to get the bank to open it up for them — the bank wants you to prove that you have the legal authority to require them to open it up. So here’s the conundrum: the document granting your friends or family the right to act on your behalf as an executor or as the power of attorney/agent is inside the box, and until the box is opened, they can’t prove that they have the authority to get the bank to open it…etc.
Safe deposit boxes are often inside a bank, which may be closed over the weekend. If a durable power of attorney or advance health care directive is needed over the weekend, no one will be able to get to it until Monday. In a medical emergency, the advance health care directive should be easily accessible. If you insist on keeping your documents under lock and key either at a bank or at home, make copies of your durable power of attorney and advance health care directive, which can easily be located.
Most estate attorneys agree that the best place is in your home where the documents can easily be found when they are needed. Some suggest that you don’t lock them into a box for safekeeping inside your home, because that would be as difficult to penetrate as a safe deposit box.
My advice, simply leave them in a file cabinet or drawer, or inside a desk, on a shelf or binder somewhere else that is obvious to anyone looking for them.