So, a lot of people ask me after we complete an estate plan, what should I do with all these documents? How do I keep them safe and make sure my wishes are actually followed? We spent so much time putting them together, how do I make sure people actually listen to what I had to say?

Well, it depends on what document we’re talking about but in general you should avoid safety deposit boxes unless you actually speak to the bank. A lot of times someone dies, we can’t get to their will, but we think we know where it is.

Even if we have a copy, we need the original and if that’s in a safe deposit box, often times we have to get the clerk of court to go down to the bank and inventory the safe deposit box. And if we don’t have the key, we have to retain a driller to drill the box, so we can actually locate your will.

What this means practically, because you’ll be gone, we’ll have a couple of months delay administering your estate, so I wouldn’t keep it in a safe deposit box.

A lot of people keep it in safe in their home. If you do that, just tell somebody where the key is, tell somebody where it is, that way it can be located after your death. One of the most difficult parts of estate administration is when we can’t find the will, we have copies, but we don’t have the original and that can cause significant delay in administering the estate.

Powers of attorney should be recorded in the register of deeds in the county both where you live and where you have any real estate. Once it’s there, it’s public record and then there shouldn’t be any difficulty enforcing it after that. The original can be kept in a safe place, but normally a copy will serve as well if it has that register of deeds stamp on it.

Your living will and your health care power of attorney, and any sort of HIPAA release you may have, should be given to your doctor to be put in your chart. If you have a hospital stay, give it to the doctor at the hospital to have it added to your chart or give it to your primary care if you haven’t been to the hospital in a while. That way if you end up being treated or you end up in the hospital, if the document needs to be referenced, it will be there and be easy for them to access.

If you travel some, you may want to consider another alternative, in North Carolina we have a pretty innovative program called the Advance Health Care Registry. It’s supported by the Secretary of State. Essentially what we do, we send them your living will and healthcare power of attorney to the Secretary of State, they scan it, they mail you the original back. They also send you these cards that have a user name and password on it. You can keep that in your wallet or in your purse and if you are ever found, your provider, EMT, can look up what your wishes are, look at the contact information for your health care agents and make sure your wishes are followed.

Now another option you have for storing your will is to keep it at the courthouse. It’s a good idea to take your will to the country courthouse in which you live and deposit there for safe keeping. They have a short form to fill out, so you’ll have a record of depositing it there, and you’ll want to tell people where you keep it. Of course, if you ever move, you’ll want to go back to the courthouse and retrieve the will before you move – just put it on your moving checklist. But that’s a great idea if you want to keep your will safe and they will usually do a check if someone tries to open an estate in that county, they will check to see if there’s a will on file.

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