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Estate Planning Documents

The Cornerstones of an Estate Plan

Depending on your family and financial circumstances, you may also benefit from other estate planning documents, including trusts. Certain strategies may also be useful to reduce estate taxes for those with large estates. The best way to find out if any optional extras will work for you is to speak with an attorney who is experienced in estate planning and can be objective in advising you. Unfortunately, some attorneys push certain strategies (for example, living trusts) on people who won’t necessarily benefit from them.

Make sure your estate plan is up to date. 

You and your attorney should periodically review your documents to make sure they’re up to date and laws haven’t changed. For example, your family situation may have changed through divorce or the arrival of children or grandchildren. The people you designate in your estate plans, for example, executors and those who make health care decisions, may need to be changed from time to time. Your attorney may need to revise your documents to conform to changes in state and federal estate planning regulations. For example, health privacy rules may require a change in power of attorney or other documents. Under Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) rules, the person you have designated to act on your behalf may not be able to secure enough medical information to ascertain your incapacity. The solution is to prepare an HIPAA authorization form that permits the person you designated to act on your behalf to have access to your medical information.  

Where should you store your will?

Although your family members or close acquaintances should have photocopies of your will, only one original version should exist. Deciding where to keep that important original document can be perplexing, so let’s evaluate the options:

Options: A home safe, business safe, bank safe deposit box, your lawyer’s office, or the clerk of your local probate court who will hold it for safekeeping in a sealed envelope.

Before you decide to store the will in a bank safe deposit box, consider state and local probate law. Many laws require that a bank safe deposit box be automatically sealed upon your death. This can result in messy complications.

The best bet often is to purchase a good quality home safe. The safe should be able to withstand temperatures up to 1,700 degrees in case of fire. Place the safe in the basement if you have one, so if there is a fire, it can’t fall through the floor. The safe should always be locked. Be certain someone you trust has the key or combination. If you have other valuables in a home safe, consider an alarm system or obtain professional help to make it burglar resistant.

Family members or close friends should know the location of your original will.

If a new will is drafted, ask the attorney who prepares it whether you should destroy the old one.

All the information presented on AARP.org is for educational and resource purposes only. We suggest that you consult with your financial or tax adviser with regard to your individual situation. Use of the information contained in this Web site is at the sole choice and risk of the reader.

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