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Should You Store Estate Planning Documents in a Safe Deposit Box?

Posted by Joel Beck | Apr 20, 2023 | 0 Comments

Should You Store Estate Planning Documents in a Safe Deposit Box?

After you put the effort into creating a good estate plan, you will have important documents that need to be protected. Sometimes, when people think, “protection,” they immediately think, “safe deposit box.” With the locks, security, and fireproof metal vault, it can seem like the perfect choice for protection.

While the documents inside the box may be protected, however, the protective factors can also make those documents unusable. And that's a problem.

Accessing a Safe Deposit Box Can Be a Challenge & Contents May Not Be As Protected As You Believe

Safe deposit boxes are designed for security, and they may be so secure that banks often deny access to executors, successor trustees, and those with power of attorney. Often there is a legal process to allow someone to access the box, but it can take considerable time and effort to put that process to work.

Some estate planning documents will be needed right away if you become incapacitated.  And, when you die, access to your Will and Trust will be needed timely as well.  But if the documents are sealed in a safe deposit box held only in your name, the documents will not be able to be accessed, and your fiduciaries (healthcare agent, agent under a power of attorney, executor, trustee, etc.) may not be able to properly act for you if they don't have access to the documents.

A local Georgia consumer expert routinely cautions against using safe deposit boxes noting that there are no federal laws or bank regulations that govern the use of safe deposit boxes which require the bank to reimburse you or your estate should the contents of your box are stolen or destroyed.  And, especially in Georgia, where we have seen banks go out of business or merge over the last many years, as well as with routine branch closures as more banking is done online, your box could possibly be lost as boxes are moved from one branch location to another by the bank.   

Copies May Not Be Accepted

Many people feel they can overcome the difficulty by storing the originals in a safe deposit box and giving copies to their loved ones. While a copy of the Georgia advance directive for healthcare and the durable power of attorney are routinely accepted in lieu of the original, your loved ones cannot easily submit a copy of a will to probate. Georgia law presumes that you revoked your Will if the original cannot be located, and getting a copy admitted to probate may be very problematic.  There are times when only originals will do, so they need to be accessible.

Better Storage Options

For some families, a better option is to store the originals in a fireproof home safe. This protects the documents and makes them easy to locate while still accessible. Of course, it is important to ensure that the right people know the location of the safe as well as how to open it.

Some people may choose to use a secure online storage vendor for estate planning and other important documents. While this keeps information easily accessible, however, the copies stored online are copies and are not originals, and this could cause problems as noted above.

If you do decide to use a safe deposit box, authorizing one or more other family members as users by adding them to the signature card could prevent some of the access problems that occur when a box is in your name only.

Get Help with Estate Planning Documents from Peach State Wills & Trusts

Reviewing, updating, and properly storing estate planning documents are all critical tasks that tend to get overlooked. 

At Peach State Wills & Trusts, our experienced team works hard to make sure you know how to ensure your plan works for you once it is completed, and that includes discussing document storage solutions so that your estate plan meets your needs and that the right people can find and use those documents when the time comes. For advice and assistance with any estate planning issues, just reach out. 

If you have any questions about estate planning in Georgia, you can download our free guide here, no strings attached.

About the Author

Joel Beck

Joel Beck founded The Beck Law Firm, LLC in 2007. His firm focused on business law and estate planning needs of clients, two areas that he was drawn to based upon personal and business experiences in his life, including a ten-year career at NASD (now known as FINRA).

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