Once a Will, Trust or Power of Attorney is signed and finalized, one naturally asks “Where should I put it?” As I work with individuals and families, this is a frequent question and one that I am always careful to be clear about. The best recommendation is for original documents to be stored in the most secure location possible. In some cases, this may be a bank safe deposit box, some other secure deposit box, a home safe or another secure location. Originals are important documents and need to be maintained in a reliable location. However, maintaining adequate copies is similarly important. My law firm generally retains backed up electronic copies of all client documents, which we hold without any additional fee. We also provide electronic copies of all signed documents to our clients for their additional storage. Informing family members or close friends of the location of originals and copies is also often recommended. Although it does not need to involve extreme measures, proper retention and storage of documents is crucially important.
A beneficiary deed can be an effective (and efficient) estate planning tool. This instrument is used by an owner of real estate to designate a “beneficiary” who would become the owner upon their death—with no requirement for probate or any other drawn out process. A signed and notarized beneficiary deed is recorded with the county recorder of deeds office and then, upon the owner’s death, only a subsequent affidavit needs to be filed in order to fully effectuate the transfer. Broader estate planning is often needed, but for simple real estate transfers, a beneficiary deed can be a wonderful approach due its simplicity and cost-effectiveness.
In estate planning, choosing the right decision maker is crucial. Who will serve as trustee of your trust when you cannot? Who will you name as agent under a power of attorney? Who will you nominate to serve as personal representative (executor) in your will? Deciding who should be in charge can be a difficult thing—and the ramifications of those decisions really are important. While the trustee, agent or personal representative is bound, limited and directed by the content of the documents you have prepared (and in many cases, by certain state statutes), their role is still central to your estate plan. In many cases, the role of such an individual is both administrative (i.e. handling a process, handling paperwork, etc.) and substantive (i.e. making important decisions regarding real life situations and what to do with your assets).
While every situation and every individual or family is unique, I generally advise my clients to consider the following characteristics when naming people to these important roles: (i) relevant expertise (health, financial, etc.), (ii) trustworthiness (always a central consideration), (iii) communication skills (in many cases they will be a key communicator to family members) and (iv) a commitment to carrying out your plan (the documents guide, but a commitment to following these is crucial).