You know that your will and other parts of your estate plan are essential documents. Once you have finished your plan, you need to find a safe place to store the papers so they will not get damaged or lost. Otherwise, when the time comes, neither your executor, trustee nor the probate court will be able to honor your final wishes for the distribution of your assets.

Naturally, your instinct is probably to find the most secure place possible to store the documents. But you must balance the need to keep them away from fires, floodwaters and theft with the equally important need for access. If your executor cannot find or easily get to your will, the resulting search will likely cause long delays.

Places many people store their documents

Here are three common places for people to keep their wills and other estate planning documents, with the pros and cons of each.

  • Your attorney’s office. Your lawyer will probably offer to keep the originals or at least copies in a secure location at their office. They can keep the documents safe from damage or loss, and make them accessible to the executor after you pass away. However, you will not have as immediate access to the papers as you would if you kept them at your home.
  • Your home. Many people prefer to keep their estate plan documents close by, where they have more control and access to them. If you choose to do this, consider putting them in a fire- and waterproof safe. Make sure that someone else who you trust has the combination. If you don’t have a safe, at least put them someplace relatively safe from water damage that is also fairly easy to locate. Don’t make your executor or family search under every bookcase, closet and piece of furniture for your will.
  • Safety deposit box. A safety deposit box at the bank may be the most secure spot for your documents, but it may also be the hardest for your executor to get to. You can make access easier by giving a trustworthy person a key to the box, or making the box a part of your revocable living trust, if you have one. Otherwise, your executor may have to get a court order to get the box open so they can get to your will.

However you decide to store your estate planning documents, you should consider reviewing its contents every few years to make sure nothing is out of date, such as having a former spouse as an heir, beneficiary or power of attorney. Your estate planning lawyer can help you make necessary updates.