As we enter another potentially deadly Atlantic hurricane season here in Florida, it is important to think about how you can protect certain critical estate planning documents in the event you are forced to suddenly evacuate your home. After all, if you have gone to the trouble to make a will or trust but the originals are washed away in a storm, what good can they do you? Here are a few basic things to keep in mind when it comes to securing your valuable papers.
What Are Your Critical Estate Planning Documents?
As a basic rule, your estate plan should include–at a minimum–a will or living trust, a durable power of attorney, a designation of a surrogate to make healthcare decisions for your, and a living will. You should always make sure these four critical documents are secure but accessible to you or a family member should the need arise.
Where Should You Keep Your Critical Documents?
There is no single, correct answer to this question. It will depend on your situation. Many people keep their critical estate planning documents in a locked box or safe in their home. Some people keep it in a bank safe deposit box. Each approach has its pros and cons. For instance, if you keep your original will in a safe deposit box, your executor may not be able to access the document right away. But keeping critical documents at home may risk their loss in the event of a flood or fire.
Should I Keep Copies or Electronic Versions of My Documents?
It never hurts to have backups, but keep in mind that copies do not necessarily have the same legal force as signed, original documents. For instance, while it is legally possible to probate a copy of a will in Florida, without the original document the copy may be subject to challenge. And with other documents, such as a power of attorney, it may be impossible to record certain real estate transactions without the original document to prove an agent's authority.
On the other hand, when it comes to healthcare planning documents, the lack of an original document is not as important. Many hospitals and nursing homes will accept a copy.
What Do I Do if My Original Documents Are Lost?
Many people do not have the presence of mind to take their estate planning documents with them in the event of an evacuation or other sudden emergency. If you have lost your original documents, you should contact your estate planning attorney as soon as possible. In many cases, your attorney will keep duplicate signed originals in their files. And if necessary, your attorney can assist you in executing new documents.
Even if you haven't lost your estate planning documents, it never hurts to sit down with an attorney and conduct a periodic review of your will, trust, power of attorney, and healthcare directives. If you need advice from a qualified Fort Myers estate planning lawyer, contact the Kuhn Law Firm, P.A., at 239-333-4529 to schedule a free consultation today.