Modern Family Matters

Estate Plans 101: How to Store Your Estate Planning Documents

December 11, 2023 with Pacific Cascade Legal Season 1 Episode 120
Modern Family Matters
Estate Plans 101: How to Store Your Estate Planning Documents
Show Notes Transcript

Join us for our live event as we sit down with Family Law Attorney, Kimberly Brown, to discuss the best way to store your estate planning documents once they've been signed, and why it's important to have a plan in place. In this interview, Kimberly addresses the following:

·        What constitutes “estate planning documents”? 

·        Should you store your original estate planning documents in your safe deposit box? 

·        Should you store your original estate planning documents in your home safe? 

·        Should you ask your estate planning attorney to store your original estate planning documents? 

·        Should you give your original estate planning documents to your personal representative??

·        What sort of other items can you include with your estate plan documents?

·        Who should you give information to about how to access these documents?

If you would like to speak with one of our attorneys, please call our office at (503) 227-0200, or visit our website at

Disclaimer: Nothing in this communication is intended to provide legal advice nor does it constitute a client-attorney relationship, therefore you should not interpret the contents as such.

Welcome to Modern Family Matters, a podcast devoted to exploring family law topics that matter most to you. Covering a wide range of legal, personal, and family law matters, with expert analysis from skilled attorneys and professional guests, we hope that our podcast provides answers, clarity, and guidance towards a better tomorrow for you and your family. Here's your host, Steve Altishin.

Steve Altishin  0:32  
I'm Steve Altishin, Director of Client Partnerships at Pacific Cascade Legal. I'm here today with Kimberly Brown, our attorney, to talk about storing your estate planning documents once they've been signed. Kimberly, how're you doing today?

Kimberly Brown  0:47  
I'm really well, Steve, how are you?

Steve Altishin  0:49  
I am well as well, well as well. So what constitutes estate planning documents? What are we talking about? 

Kimberly Brown  1:01  
Well, the general package of the estate planning documents would be your wills, if you have trusts, powers of attorney, health care directives that are signed, not the copies, but your original ones are your estate planning documents. And so these are the documents that we're talking about today, where should we store the documents that say to the people who survived me what I want to do with my property, after I die, you have to be really careful about consideration. And in considering where you want to do this, because there are so many people that move around, you have people who you want to be your executor that may not be family members, and so or you're leaving something to charity. And so you have your storage be somewhere that's accessible to you and to the others that may need to get them. So you know, again, wills, trusts, powers of attorney health care, those are the primary estate documents that we're talking about.

Steve Altishin  2:02  
So let's go through a couple of scenarios and questions I'm sure you get asked. And the first one is, you know, Well, should I store the documents in a safety deposit box?

Kimberly Brown  2:16  
I will say that that's my favorite place to encourage my clients to store their documents it is it can be difficult. And so it's very important that that if you are going to store it in a safety deposit box, that we that you do certain steps to make sure that everybody knows where the documents are at. So if you have a child or a spouse and they are on your safe deposit box, then it is it is a little easier if that's the case, if you have a co ownership with somebody on your safe deposit box, because you gotta remember, the safe deposit box is something that is a rental agreement between the people and the bank. So if you're the only one on the on the rental agreement with the bank, they are reluctant to let anybody else into that box, because the whole purpose of a safe deposit box is to keep it safe from anybody else. So you want to make sure that there's some way for somebody else to gain access. In Oregon, this is Oregon in Oregon. If you are the personal representatives, what other states might call executor of the estate, and you know that and you have a copy of it that proves that or you just know that this, the bank will open the safe deposit box for you for the sole purpose of removing an original will. That's it. And even if you get the original will and you're nominated as the personal representative, you still have to have a locksmith come in and drill out the lock in order for the rest of the safe deposit box to be opened. There are some states that don't even allow the original will to be removed. So you have to be careful about where you store it. You know when you put it into into a safe deposit box. Now here's the here's the other problem. You got to let people know where you're safe deposit boxes. And so if you don't tell people that you have a safety box, safe deposit box at Chase Bank on the corner of Main and six, and it's box number 87 The bank is not going to give you that information to get the will out of so so you have to have a way in which you tell people where your originals are. And generally what I say is take a copy and put it in a desk drawer where people would guess you pay your bills or keep your important papers that are not in a safe deposit box and just say original located at Chase Bank on Main and six bucks number 92. 

Steve Altishin  4:46  
Yeah, can more than one person own or rent and have the right to a single safe deposit box?

Kimberly Brown  4:55  
Sure, sure, just like almost any other piece of property that you rent or lease As you can have a couple of people, several people, you don't necessarily want a ton of people because you want to make sure that you're keeping your your stuff safe. But you can have even your trust sometimes can be a co owner of the or kolisi of the of the safe deposit box. So your trustee can come in and access your safe deposit box, your successor trustee may be able to do that. So I mean, it can be several people owning or leasing a safe deposit box. 

Steve Altishin  5:28  
Well, it sounds like, to me, a pretty good place, I should go look and see if that's where ours is. But having said that, a lot of people have home safes, little home safes stuck in their closet, or wherever. Should you just go ahead and store your original estate planning documents in your home safe?

Kimberly Brown  5:50  
You know, that's again, a lot of people do use that. And I as a lawyer, I always look for potential catastrophes. And the thing that I'm trying most to do is protect your original document, so that when it comes time after you've died to either probate your will or follow through with a successor trustee on your trust, I want to be sure that we can find the original documents. So if you use a home safe, you have to be careful that it's not a safe that somebody who doesn't want the will to go through probate or the trust can't just pick up your safe and walk away with it and nobody knows where it's at. So you want to make sure that you're safe is the kind that is bolted to the floor can't be moved easily. You also want to make sure that the ability to access it is both difficult to access, difficult being you know a relative word. And that the ability to access it is can be found somewhere. So you don't want somebody be able to just go in and see that the keys are hanging right next to the safe deposit box, that the combination is written on the front of the of the dial of the safe deposit box. So you want to be able to say you know it same thing in your district, you'll find the code or the numbers that you need to do to enter the safe in this place. So you can go there and put it there, you also need to make sure that you're safe is fireproof and waterproof. And it's here that I think that is the thing that you have to be careful of. What I have learned over the years is that home safes work when they work, but there are times when if there's a fire, and it is hot enough, no matter how fireproof your safe is, your safe will likely survive the fire, but the contents of the safe may not survive the fire. So if it gets hot enough inside your papers can go to ashes, and you're safe and just fine. So that's why I just love safe deposit boxes, because that's less likely to happen. But again, if you have a safe and you know you never have a fire, your home says fine. So it's you know, it's just my catastrophe looking forward, you know?

Steve Altishin  7:56  
Well, that's what you need. It's safe and secure both of them. So now there's two other ways that, you know, people seem to do things with their estate planning document, other than just putting them in their drawer, which I think I'm getting from your vibes, that's a big no, no. But what a lot of people do is they will either give them to the personal representative, just say here it is, you deal with it, done, or ask their attorney if they can store it. In the old days, I know attorneys used to store say, wills all the time. But I don't know that that's that big anymore. 

Kimberly Brown  8:38  
Yeah, I remember when I first started working in the legal field, the firm I worked for, had a safe downstairs in the bottom of this building that was really rather large safe, down there. And it was so full at that time that you couldn't hardly get the documents in there. It used to be that they that your attorney would store your documents that change probably about 2530 years ago when the American Bar Association recommended that we don't keep the wills. And the reason for that is we are so much more mobile than we used to be. And so people move including attorneys, they move from from one practice to another or from one state to another or they retire they die. And so locating an original will, that has been stored by an attorney can become very difficult. The other thing that happens is the person who wrote the will moves you moot. You had an Oregon attorney do Your will they stored it in their safe deposit box that they own or that they lease and then you move to Boston and you forget to tell anybody that you have a will with a certain attorney in Oregon and so and you never do an updated well and so nobody knows where your witness so very rarely I think anymore. Do firms keep the wills it's just too risky for for them to not unnecessarily be lost, but to for the parties just not to know where they are because they've lost contact with each other. And so it's important that you have your will, in a place that you know, and that you tell certain people like your personal representative, it's in the safe deposit box, it's in the safe that's in my closet, I'll leave the code for you somewhere where you can find it, or here's the code or whatever, so that your original will can be located.

Steve Altishin  10:27  
Yeah, I imagine leaving it to your personal representative has got some of the similar problems. You know, it seems to me that the problem isn't finding the will after you die, if you've given it to your PRs, finding it after the PR dies before you do. 

Kimberly Brown  10:44  
Exactly. If you no matter, you know, the risk of losing your will if you are not the one keeping track of it and making sure that the people who need to know where it's at can configure that out, you run the risk, PR moves, the PR takes the the wheel with them, when they move to Boston, they have a home safe, it's not as fireproof as it should be, it gets burned up, they die, they become incapacitated, all of those factors, you know, affect how your will, can get lost. And so it's I think it's really important that the person who wrote the will who has the will, and once that will follow through as the party who's responsible for keeping track of it and making sure the right people know where it's at or how to get it. 

Steve Altishin  11:26  
Yeah, yeah. Keeping track of it, does that it include, you recommend that that may include even some things other than your just, you know, estate planning document, your trust or your will or your POA. I mean, are there other things that you might want to consider keeping it in proximity with because they may be important once a probate is needed?

Kimberly Brown  11:50  
Right. I recommend that you keep things like insurance policies, and the beneficiary information around those insurance policies in your safe deposit box or with your will wherever you keep your wills, titles to your property. If you've got your your mortgage paid off, and they send you a deed, put that with your will stocks, bonds, investment accounts, bank account information, and your password and account numbers to feel like a lot of people online accounts anymore. And so you want to have that list and their passwords stored someplace. And I think that if you can keep all that information in the same place, you've given a great gift to whoever's responsible to act as your personal representative or executor to your stage. And so we want to keep important papers all together. So that the next step after you die to transfer the property is easy to start and easy to handle. 

Steve Altishin  12:39  
Yeah, that makes sense. Thank you very much. This was again a great talk about what to do with your important estate stuff. And because I know of cases where they got lost, they were never found. In some cases there was a copy and lots of rigmarole lots of legal more costs, they get probated. Some they don't have anything. And then it just, you know, up to people testifying or the state saying, hey, it just goes by intestate. So, it's important stuff to keep aware of, isn't it?

Kimberly Brown  13:14  
Yeah, it is. I mean, this morning, I got a call from somebody whose dad died in 2010. The estate has been open and closed, you know, 1310 years ago, maybe it was along a state. And they found four pieces of property that were in the name of the business that the parent used to own. And they found out about it three months ago. 

Steve Altishin  13:36  
Yeah, yeah. Keep it together.

Kimberly Brown  13:42  
That's my job to keep myself together.

Steve Altishin  13:45  
There you go. So thank you, again, Kimberly, for sitting down and talking about storing your estate planning documents once they've been signed. So thanks. 

Kimberly Brown  13:54  
You're welcome. 

Steve Altishin  13:55  
And thank you, everyone for joining us. Anyone with further questions, feel free to contact our firm, we'll get you hooked up with an attorney who can help you. So stay safe, stay happy and be well.

This has been Modern Family Matters, a legal podcast focusing on providing real answers and direction for individuals and families. Our podcast is sponsored by Pacific Cascade Legal, serving families in Oregon and Washington. If you are in need of legal counsel or have additional questions about a family law matter important to you, please visit our websites at or You can also call our headquarters at (503) 227-0200 to schedule a case evaluation with one of our seasoned attorneys. Modern Family Matters, advocating for your better tomorrow and offering legal solutions important to the modern family.