Our blog provides education and information on estate planning issues to help you keep you informed on new developments in this area of law. Please note that information in this blog and website is informational only and is not legal advice.
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Once you’ve taken the time to invest in your estate plan, it’s critical that you let your executor and/or trustee (also known as your “fiduciaries”) know where to find your estate plan documents.
When I finish any client’s estate plan, I email them electronic copies of their executed documents in addition to providing them with the original copies of their documents in their Estate Plan Portfolio binder. I advise sharing the electronic copies of your estate plan documents with whomever you’ve appointed as your executor and/or trustee, and, if you are married, to whomever you’ve appointed as your successor executor and/or successor trustee. Included in the email should be a note letting them know where to find the originals of your documents.
If you’re not comfortable sharing the contents of your estate plan documents with your fiduciaries, you should let at least two trusted people, who are not your spouse, know where to find the originals of your documents.
If you have a will-centered estate plan that does not include a trust, the location of the original will is critical information that your executor must have. This is because a court will only accept the original will for purposes of opening a probate proceeding (the judicial proceeding in which a judge supervises the disposition of a person’s assets after they pass). If your executor does not know where to find the original of your will, a copy of your will may only be admitted as “probative evidence” of your wishes, but a court is not bound by its terms.
For some people, this may not be an issue, but, in cases in which there is the potential for discord among your heirs, not knowing the location of the original of your will can create a huge headache.
A good illustration of the problems caused by not telling someone where to find your will occurred in the estate of the famous Olympic sprinter, Florence "FloJo" Griffith Joyner.
When Ms. Joyner died unexpectedly at the age of 28, she had not told anyone where to find her original will. This proved a significant issue when Ms. Joyner’s mother claimed that Ms. Joyner promised that she could live in Ms. Joyner’s house until she died. Ms. Joyner’s husband disputed his mother-in-law’s claim, and the case wound up in court. Hundreds of thousand of dollars in legal fees could have been avoided had Ms. Joyner told someone where to find her will.
The moral of the story is make sure at least a couple of different trusted friends or family know where to find your original estate plan documents.