Where Should I Keep My Estate Planning Documents?

by Jessica A. Hayes, Esq.

If you have been reading this newsletter for any period of time, you likely are aware of the importance of having comprehensive, up-to-date estate planning documents. What you may not realize, however, is that where you keep your original documents can be equally as important – and can either help your loved ones out immensely, or can cause them to incur significant legal fees.

A complete estate plan includes documents which are to be used in the event of your incapacity as well as at your death. In both of these situations, it is important that the individuals named to serve in those documents are aware that the documents exist, where they are located, and how they may be accessed. After all, if the original documents cannot be found, they will be of little use. A beneficiary of a will whose original that cannot be located, for example, may be out of luck, if the beneficiary would not have otherwise inherited under Virginia’s laws relating to intestate succession. The law presumes that if an original will cannot be located, its creator destroyed it with the intent that it be revoked. As a result, attempting to admit a photocopy of a will to probate can be a costly, time-consuming endeavor, and there are no guarantees as to whether the copy will ultimately be accepted.

To avoid the problems that arise when original estate planning documents are lost, we recommend the following:

(1) Store your original estate planning documents, and any other important legal documents (deeds, life insurance policies, etc.), in a safe, secure, and logical location.

Many of our clients choose to store their documents in a waterproof and fire-resistant safe or file cabinet at home; others prefer to keep theirs in a safe deposit box at the bank. These are all good options. We do not recommend storing original documents in your car, the freezer, a basement that floods, or in one of the many banker’s boxes you have sitting in your garage. Help your loved ones out by choosing a logical location.

(2) Ensure that others will be able to access your documents in the event of your death or incapacity.

If you are keeping your documents in a safe at home, make extra copies of any safe keys and combinations. If you are keeping your documents in a safe deposit box, work with the bank to ensure that a trusted family member or friend can access them in the event of your death or incapacity.

Under Virginia law, an agent under a power of attorney does not have the automatic right to enter into and remove all contents of a safe deposit box, although the agent may be permitted to enter into the box for the limited purpose of searching for the original power of attorney. For this reason, safeguarding the documents yourself or having a trusted family member safeguard them may cause fewer headaches for your fiduciaries. If you choose to use a safe deposit box, we generally recommend that it be in the name of joint owners, so that the joint owner may be able to access the contents of the box in the event of your incapacity or death. Always check with your bank, however, to ensure this will be the case. Each bank’s policies and procedures may vary.

(3) Tell the individuals named in your estate planning documents where you are keeping the originals and how they may access them.

It is a good idea to do this in writing, so the information is not forgotten. If you store your documents in a safe, be sure your named agents and executor have the combination or a copy of the key. If the documents are in a safe deposit box, make sure your named agents and executor know the box number and the address of the bank branch where the box is located. If you change the location of your documents, update your loved ones immediately to make them aware of the new location.

(4) To avoid confusion, shred any old, revoked estate planning documents.

You don’t want your loved ones to run across – and attempt to use – an outdated will or power of attorney that no longer reflects your wishes. Prevent misunderstandings and family conflicts by keeping only your current estate planning documents.

To assist you in getting organized, the Hook Law Center will be sponsoring its annual Shred Day on Saturday, August 22, 2015 from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Stop by our Virginia Beach office located on 295 Bendix Road; Stealth Shredding will be on hand to shred your old documents and records on-site. This event is free and open to the public, but we will be accepting donations for the Alzheimer’s Association.

Kit Kat

Ask Kit Kat: The Movie Max

Hook Law Center: Kit Kat, what can you tell us about the movie Max which opened July 3?

Kit Kat: Well, the movie Max is a wonderful story about loyalty and love between a service dog and his military handler. It’s a fictional story about the war in Afghanistan, but not outside the realm of reason. It goes like this. Max’s Marine is killed in combat. He is so traumatized that he can no longer serve in a war zone. The Marine’s family adopts him, but all is not smooth sailing. The Marine’s brother has a hard time accepting him, because Max is a constant reminder of the family’s loss. It makes for a gripping story.

Some things of note which are interesting. Max is played not by one, but 4 dogs—all Belgian Malinois. At first glance, they look like German Shepherds. Anyway, all the dogs are male, except the one in fight scenes. A female is used for that, because females act like the fighting is more like play, and can calm down faster. For the majority of the movie, Carlos plays most of the scenes, but 2 other males with special skills in barking and running are used.

The director, Boaz Yakin, hopes the movie will bring attention to this issue of letting service personnel bring their combat dogs back with them to the States. Only congressional action will make the process easier. Mr. Yakin says, ‘At the present time, there is a great deal of red tape involved in any adoption, and there is a difficulty in bringing the dogs back to the United States with their masters. They don’t understand. They want to be with the ones they served with in battle.’ Dogs are incredibly loyal! That loyalty should be rewarded, don’t you think? (Mal Vincent, “Director hopes heroic-dog film will breed action in Congress,” The Virginian-Pilot (The Daily Break), June 25, 2015, p. 1 and 3)

Upcoming Seminars and Events

  • July 30 & 31, 2015 – The Hook Law Center Seminar for July, What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You – Recent Developments in Estate, Long Term Care and Special Needs Planning, will be held at 10am on Thursday, July 30, 2015 at the Hilton Garden Inn – Harbour View and at 10am on Friday, July 31, 2015 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel – Towne Center.  To register, please call 757-399-7506 and ask for Debbie or register online at hooklawcenter.com/seminars.
  • August 12, 2015 – Andrew Hook will be speaking to a group at Maryview Hospital in Portsmouth, Virginia.
  • August 20, 2015 – Andrew Hook will be speaking on Veterans Benefits at The Chesapeake.
  • August 21, 2015 – Andrew Hook will be speaking to a group at DePaul Hospital in Norfolk, Virginia.
  • August 22, 2015 – Hook Law Center is sponsoring “Shred with a Purpose” to be held at our Virginia Beach office, 295 Bendix Road, from 9am until 12Noon.  Donations to the Alzheimer’s Association for the “Walk to End Alzheimer’s” will also be accepted.  For more information, please call 757-399-7506 or click the following link to view the event flyer: Shred With A Purpose Flyer.
  • August 27, 2015 – Andrew Hook will be speaking to a group at Mary Immaculate Hospital in Newport News, Virginia.
  • September 9, 2015 – Andrew Hook will be speaking at a Virginia Continuing Legal Education seminar.
  • October 26, 2015 – Shannon Laymon-Pecoraro will be speaking at the National Business Institute’s seminar on The Probate Process from Start to Finish in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Distribution of This Newsletter

Hook Law Center encourages you to share this newsletter with anyone who is interested in issues pertaining to the elderly, the disabled and their advocates. The information in this newsletter may be copied and distributed, without charge and without permission, but with appropriate citation to Hook Law Center, P.C. If you are interested in a free subscription to the Hook Law Center News, then please telephone us at 757-399-7506, e-mail us at mail@hooklawcenter.com or fax us at 757-397-1267.