By Nancy Burner, ESQ.
Regardless of your age, the creation and maintenance of a thorough estate plan is essential. An estate plan ensures that your needs, your family’s needs and financial goals are met during your lifetime and upon your death. A thorough and comprehensive plan should include a last will and testament, health care proxy, living will and power of attorney. For some clients the creation of a trust is also practical. Through the creation of a last will and testament and/or a trust, you can establish how your assets will be distributed upon your death.
Additionally, you can ensure that the financial needs of your children or disabled beneficiaries are met after you pass away by establishing trusts for their benefit. By creating a health care proxy, you can designate a succession of individuals to make health care decisions on your behalf, if and only if you are incapable of making them on your own. An estate plan would also include the creation of a power of attorney, through which you can designate someone to handle your financial matters in the event you become incapable of doing so.
Once you have taken the time to create your estate planning documents, you must properly store and protect these original documents. This is particularly important with regard to your power of attorney since many banks and financial institutions require the original signed document. Additionally, the executor of your last will and testament must file the original document with the Surrogate’s Court. It is important to remember to not remove the staples from your original last will and testament.
When deciding where to keep your documents, you should consider who will be acting as your agent, trustee or executor. It is important that you keep your documents in a place where your named agent can easily find and access them. It is not recommended to keep your documents in your safe deposit box. Banks have strict rules about who they allow to open and access safe deposit boxes. This is especially problematic should you become incapacitated or upon your death, since you may be the only one with access to the box.
While some people believe that having a jointly owned safe deposit box will solve this problem, banks have been known to freeze access to safe deposit boxes even when there is a joint owner. If the bank does not allow access, your agent will need a court order to open the box and locate the documents. The most accessible place to keep your documents is in your home or office. It is important that you tell the individuals you name as your agents where your documents are located. The best way to protect your documents from damage is to keep them in a fireproof and waterproof box. However, if you choose to use a safe, make sure that your trusted agents have the safe lock combination.
Nancy Burner, Esq. practices elder law and estate planning from her East Setauket office.