Where to Keep Your Legal Documents

So, you’ve planned ahead and have decided how you want your affairs to be handled upon your passing. You have signed all of your Basic Estate Planning documents: a Last Will and Testament, a Durable Power of Attorney, a living will, a Massachusetts Health Care Proxy, and a HIPAA Release.  You may have protected your home and assets in a trust, or avoided estate tax, or protected your special needs child from losing her benefits.  Congratulations!  You can sleep easy.  Now what should you do with these documents?  Where should you keep them to ensure they are safe, accessible, and that your wishes will be honored? In order to Probate a Will, the original signed document must be located and provided to the Probate Court. Therefore, it is important that the original Will be available and its location known to your appointed Personal Representative.

Many people keep their original Will in a desk drawer or a fire proof safe at home. However, there is always a risk that this document could be stolen or accidentally destroyed if it is kept at home. Another popular place for keeping the original Will is in a safe deposit box at a bank. Obviously, there are some difficulties that are presented with this approach if the deceased person is the only person with access to the box. If the safe deposit box is held jointly with another person, the survivor will continue to have access to the box. However, if both owners die at the same time, or if the survivor is incapacitated and cannot access the box, the Will may not be available. Instead, an order from the Court would be necessary before anyone could access the Will in the box. The Durable Power of Attorney is the document where you name an agent to make financial decisions if you cannot. This original should be kept in a safe place where the location is known by the named agent, but only after being authorized by you that he may act as your agent.

Many of our clients choose to have our Firm keep this document to avoid potential abuse by the named agent and ensure its safe keeping. The three medical documents, the Massachusetts Health Care Proxy, the HIPAA Release and the living will, work together and should be kept together. The Massachusetts Health Care Proxy is the document where you name an agent to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are not able to do so; the HIPAA Release authorizes named individuals to receive information regarding your private medical information; and the living will is an indication of your personal wishes regarding “end of life” decisions.

Given the importance of each of these documents, it is important that your agent knows where to locate these medical documents quickly and easily. At our office, we provide you multiple copies of your Massachusetts Health Care Proxy so you can provide copies to your agents and your Primary Care Physician to ensure that your wishes our known. We also provide you digital copies of these documents to allow you to easily provide copies of these documents to the necessary individuals.  We can also provide you with a healthcare flash drive, so that your healthcare documents can be accessed via the internet with a secure code and key chain.

Anticipating the future and signing these important legal documents to carry out your wishes is only the beginning. When the documents have been put in place, it is important that they also be kept safe while remaining accessible.   Your plan may be wonderful, but let’s make sure your children can easily figure it out. 

©Surprenant & Beneski, P.C. 35 Arnold Street, New Bedford, MA 02740, 336 South Street, Hyannis MA 02601 and 45 Bristol Drive, Easton MA 02375.  This article is for illustration purposes only. This handout does not constitute legal advice. There is no attorney/client relationship created with Surprenant & Beneski, P.C. by this article. DO NOT make decisions based upon information in this handout. Every family is unique and legal advice can only be given after an individual consultation with an elder law attorney.  Any decisions made without proper legal advice may cause significant legal and financial problems.