Estate Planning Pitfall: Your family doesn’t know where to find your records

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If you died today, would your family members know where to locate your will, trusts, life insurance policies and other critical estate planning documents? What about bank and brokerage accounts, IRAs or other qualified retirement plans, mortgages and other loans, real estate documents, tax records, and automobile titles?

The last thing you want is to force your heirs to search for key papers at such a traumatic time. Here are some tips for keeping your important documents secure and accessible:

  • Ask your accountant or estate planning attorney to keep your original will and other documents, and provide your family with his or her contact information.
  • Store documents in a fireproof lockbox and let your loved ones know where you keep it — and the key or combination.
  • Rent a safe deposit box, let your family know where you keep the key and follow the bank’s procedures for authorizing them to open it. If you’re uncomfortable keeping the key at home, consider leaving it with a trusted advisor.
  • To ensure that powers of attorney, living wills or health care directives are readily accessible, consider giving signed “duplicate originals” to the people authorized to make decisions on your behalf. In the case of health care documents, ask your physician to keep duplicate originals with your medical records.
  • Make sure your family has access to digital assets, such as online banking and brokerage accounts, electronic bill-paying services and e-mail accounts. If you’re uncomfortable keeping a list of user names and passwords, consider an online service that stores this information for you and provides it to your representative when you die or if you become incapacitated.