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Organizing and Safeguarding Your Estate Planning Documents

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When you begin the process of putting together an estate plan, you’ll want to stay as organized as possible. To help you, we’ve put together a guide to organizing and storing your will or trust and related documents. Here are a few basic, but essential, steps that you need to take.

First, you’ll want to file all pertinent original documents in a clearly labeled folder or binder (you may want to label it "estate planning.") These documents include your will or trust, power of attorney, health care directives, and any property agreements as well. Your estate planning binder should also contain an itemized list of your personal property and assets, bank and credit card account information, copies of insurance policies, and other related information.

Some items will need to be kept separate—for instance, your driver’s license, passport, and birth and marriage certificates. You’ll want to include copies of those, however. You should also plan on including in your estate planning binder a comprehensive list or “road map” noting where each original can be found.

In addition, it’s essential to reference where tax returns and various bills are kept. This means you’ll need to organize these documents too, if you haven’t already. Even though they won’t be part of your estate planning binder, they’re an important part of the overall picture.

Don’t forget to regularly update your estate planning file as time goes by and circumstances change. Plan on setting aside some time at least once a year to focus on that.

The binder should be stored in a secure place, such as a safety deposit box. A second copy can be given to your attorney to keep on file. That way, no matter what, there’s another copy at an offsite location that can be accessed. Additionally, in the event that your estate planning binder is irreparably damaged, it will be much faster and easier for your attorney to arrange for the replacement and resigning of various documents as necessary.

Ultimately, your goal is to make your estate plan as accessible as necessary for you and your loved ones. Make sure your close family members know where you’re storing these documents and that they are able to access them when the time comes.

Document organization and safekeeping is only one aspect of the estate planning process, of course. Your lawyer can counsel and guide you through the other steps in the dynamic process of estate planning.

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