I routinely advise my clients on how to store the original estate planning documents I have prepared for them. But there are other important documents that should be protected. The Wall Street Journal’s Weekend Investor just posted an article on the topic. You may also find helpful Good Housekeeping’s list of what to keep, what to toss, and how long to store those hard-to-replace documents. Be aware that you may want to take their suggestions of how long to store documents with a grain of salt. If Medi-Cal (Medicaid) ever becomes an issue, it has been suggested that you keep financial records for at least as long as your state’s Medicaid “look back period” (currently for California 30 months but sooner or later to be 5 years).
For the most important papers I recommend renting a safe deposit box at a bank. These would be items such as the “ink originals” of your trust or will and other hard to replace copies. This would include a marriage license, birth certificates, divorce decrees, and life insurance documents. If your area is prone to natural disasters, such as flooding or hurricanes, you may want choose a bank that is outside your immediate area.
Be sure to tell a trusted person where to find the safe deposit box key in case they need to access the documents after you are gone. Some states seal safe deposit boxes when a person dies which can make getting to the will difficult when your loved one dies. California law has not required the sealing of safe deposit boxes since 1981. Here is an article I wrote for the largest regional newspaper in San Diego County. It describes how to gain access to a safe deposit box to look for important papers after the box holder has died.
Another important task is to scan your important documents and keep them on your
computer. This makes for easy access to copies for your everyday use. You may even want to give a “flash drive” copy of the electronic version of the documents to a trusted family member that does not live with you for safe-keeping.
This type of storage is inexpensive and can be purchased at any office supply or electronics store for less than ten dollars. This way, you will insure immediate access to the documents you need if you can’t get to your bank and your home is destroyed by fire or water damage.
One more point. Now that you have completed your estate plan and properly protected the documents, make sure to review them every few years. Your circumstances will change as your family grows older. Also, changes in the law can make your planning obsolete, or new planning techniques may now be available to improve your situation.