Proper Handling of Estate Planning Documents

We live in an age of electronic technology which can be used to assist us with the mounds of paperwork that inundate our lives. Although original legal documents can be scanned and kept in a PDF or some other electronic format that prevents their being altered, proper handling and storage of the original paper document is critical when it is time to administer a person’s estate. During administration, the original documents must be retrieved and used either during the settlor’s incapacity or after a settlor dies. This issue gives a snapshot of proper handling of estate planning documents.


Your Estate Planning Portfolio. If you dont already have one, you should keep a binder with the following original documents at home in a safe, but accessible place:

  1. Your Trust Agreement, including any Schedule of Assets and Memoranda for Distribution of Tangible Personal Property.
  1. Certification of Trust.
  1. Durable Powers of Attorney for Property Management.
  1. Advance Directive for Health Care and HIPAA Authorization.
  1. Copies of These Documents: Your Will; Correspondence to Financial Institutions; Insurance Policies; IRA and qualified plan information; and Real Property Deeds. Your lawyer should have a copy of each of these documents that can be accessed in case of an emergency. You may also want to keep an electronic version of these documents.


Your Will. You should keep your original Will in a fireproof location such as a safe deposit box at your bank.

Original Life Insurance Policies. You should keep the actual policy in the bank vault because it won’t be needed until a claim is being made for death benefits.

Original Deeds to Real Property. Once your Trust Transfer Deed has been recorded by the County Recorder’s office, you should keep the entire original document in the safe deposit box at the bank. You should keep a copy of the recorded deed in your Estate Planning Portfolio.

Personal Property. You should keep any jewelry, small keepsakes or family heirlooms and the like in the bank’s safe deposit box, especially if they are items you do not use or display regularly and which you want to give to specific persons at your death.

Correspondence to be Opened After Death. Sometimes, letters to loved ones should be kept in the safe deposit box in envelopes addressed to the intended recipients. This prevents such personal items from being misplaced or lost.


You should keep a card in your wallet that states that you have an Advance Directive for Health Care and identifies at least one (preferably two or more) agents for making health care decisions for you. You should also keep information regarding organ donation and other pertinent medical information such as health conditions which would be affected by emergency medical treatment.


Your CHILDREN and AGENTS under your Advance Directive for Health Care should be given:

A current list of the kind of medications and prescriptions you are taking, including their dosage and strength;

The name of the prescribing doctor;

Your medical insurance information;

Primary physician information, including addresses and telephone numbers.

Such information should be in your home in an easily accessible place in case of an emergency.

If you want to sign DNR [Do Not Resuscitate] or POLST [Physician’s Order for Life Sustaining Treatment] forms, your children and agents under your advance directive for health care should have a copy of such documents, they should be placed in your medical file, and if you are elderly and living at home, the information should be kept on the front of your refrigerator because emergency medical personnel know to look there for information.

If you have a specific medical condition that may affect emergency medical treatment, be sure to let your children and health care agents know about it.


I do not recommend that you give a copy of your Trust or your Will to your children or your successor Trustee until they actually need to have one, such as in the event of incapacity or death. After a person becomes incapacitated or dies, the terms of these documents cannot legally be changed, and a Successor Trustee, Agent, or Executor, as the case may be, needs to step in and act for the incapacitated person or his or her estate or trust.

Sending copies too early means you will need to keep track of who has which copy. It may also create unrealistic expectations of inheritance such as a certain item or a certain amount in your children or other beneficiaries, and cause hard feelings or even lawsuits if you change your mind (and your documents).