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Should You Keep Your Will in a Safety Deposit Box?

Photo of lady putting her will in a safety deposit

Are you unsure of the best place to store your will? Many people consider keeping their will in a safety deposit box as a secure option. However, is this the right choice for you?

In this article, we will examine the pros and cons of storing your will in a safety deposit box. While safety deposit boxes provide a high level of security, there are potential drawbacks to consider as well. We will discuss the accessibility issues involved in having your will stored in a bank vault, as well as the legal requirements for accessing the box after your passing.

Pros and cons of storing your will in a safety deposit box

Storing your will in a safety deposit box has its advantages and disadvantages. Let’s explore some of them in detail.

Pros of storing your will in a safety deposit box

1. Enhanced security: Safety deposit boxes are housed within secure bank vaults, providing protection against theft, fire, and other potential risks. This ensures that your will and other important legal documents remains safe and intact.

2. Privacy: Storing your will in a safety deposit box offers a level of confidentiality as only authorized individuals can access its contents. This can help protect your personal information and ensure that your wishes remain confidential.

3. Protection from damage: Safety deposit boxes are designed to withstand various hazards, including fire and water damage. By storing your will in a safety deposit box, you can have peace of mind knowing that it is protected from potential disasters.

Cons of storing your will in a safety deposit box

1. Limited accessibility during your lifetime: Banks have specific operating hours, which may not align with your schedule. If you need to access your legal documents outside of these hours, you may face difficulties.

2. Limited accessibility if you are incapacitated: If you become incapacitated, your loved ones may face challenges accessing the box without the necessary legal documentation. In fact, if you are incapacitated, banks will often not honor a general power of attorney. Instead  the bank may require a court order. This may result in you being placed in an expensive and lengthy court-ordered guardianship. That will defeat one of the main purposes for you have an estate plan in the first place … namely, to stay out of court.

3. Limited accessibility if you have passed away:  In Arizona, and most other states, you can list more than one person as owner of the box.  The survivor will be able to get the contents.  Bu what if the last owner has died?  Arizona statute A.R.S. 6-1008 allows two bank employees to open a box and look for a will if anyone claiming to be interested in the contents presents himself to the bank.

4. Potential legal challenges: In some cases, accessing a safety deposit box after someone’s passing may require legal procedures. This can cause delays and complications for your loved ones when they need access to your will.

5. Costs: Safety deposit boxes are not free, and you will need to pay rental fees to the bank. These costs can vary depending on the size of the box and the location of the bank. It’s essential to consider these expenses when deciding whether to store your will in a safety deposit box.

6. Your loved ones may not know which bank to contact: You may have verbally told someone years ago where your will and other documents are. But things change. And memories fade. Banks close and get consolidated. The child you told may move out of state and not remember the exact address of the bank. This all can result in a frustrating scavenger hunt for your loved ones after you are gone.

7. Privacy is usually a bad goal: Yes, we mentioned privacy as a benefit above. However, in the big picture privacy in the area of estate planning can lead to a lot of problems. Concealing the documents from other is one of the factors discontented heirs can use to assert a claim that your documents are the result of undue influence.

While safety deposit boxes offer a high level of security, it is crucial to weigh these pros and cons before making a decision. Consider your personal circumstances and preferences to determine if a safety deposit box is the right choice for you.

Legal considerations regarding will storage

When it comes to storing your will, there are legal considerations that you should be aware of to ensure its validity and accessibility.

When storing your will in a safety deposit box, it is crucial to inform your executor or a trusted individual about its location. This information should be documented in a safe place, such as a secure folder or with your attorney. By doing so, you can ensure that your loved ones are aware of where to find your will and can access it when the time comes.

To further protect your will, consider creating multiple copies and storing them in different locations. While the original will should be kept in a safety deposit box, having copies in your possession, with your attorney, or in a digital format can provide additional peace of mind.

It’s important to review and update your will regularly, especially if you change your beneficiaries, acquire new assets, or have significant life changes. By keeping your will up to date, you can ensure that your wishes accurately reflect your current circumstances.

Accessing your will in a safety deposit box if you become incapacitated

One potential drawback of storing your legal documents in a safety deposit box is the accessibility issue that arises if you become incapacitated. In such cases, your loved ones may need to access your power of attorneys, trust documentation, and other documents to make important decisions or manage your affairs.

To address this concern, it is crucial to grant a trusted individual, such as your spouse or a family member, legal authority to access your safety deposit box in the event of your incapacitation. This can be achieved by adding them as a joint renter or granting them a power of attorney specifically for accessing your safety deposit box.

It is important to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney to ensure that the necessary legal documents are in place to authorize access to your safety deposit box if you become incapacitated.

Accessing your will in a safety deposit box after your death

Another consideration when storing your will in a safety deposit box is the process of accessing it after your death. Your loved ones will need to retrieve the will to initiate the probate process and distribute your assets according to your wishes.

To access your will after your passing, your executor or a trusted individual must follow the legal procedures set forth by your jurisdiction. (In Arizona, A.R.S. Section 6-1008 provides a procedure for this.) This typically involves presenting the necessary documentation, such as a death certificate and proof of identification, to the bank where the safety deposit box is held.

It’s important to note that these procedures may vary depending on your location and the specific bank’s policies. It is advisable to consult with an attorney to understand the legal requirements and ensure a smooth process for accessing your will and other important papers.

Alternatives to storing your will in a safety deposit box

If storing your will in a safety deposit box does not align with your preferences or circumstances, there are alternative options to consider.

One option is to store your will with your attorney. Attorneys often offer secure storage for important documents, including wills. This can provide peace of mind knowing that your will is in the hands of a trusted professional who can guide your loved ones through the legal process when the time comes.

Another alternative is to store your will in a fireproof safe within your home. This ensures that your will is easily accessible to your loved ones while providing protection against potential hazards. However, it’s important to note that home safes may not offer the same level of security as a bank vault, so it is crucial to weigh the risks and benefits. Also, if you are the only one who knows the combination to your safe, they will need to locate a locksmith after your death.

Digital storage is also becoming increasingly popular. Storing your will in a password-protected digital format, such as a secure cloud storage service, can provide accessibility and convenience. But beware! Under Arizona law, “If an original will that was last seen in the possession of the testator cannot be found after the testator’s death, the testator is presumed to have destroyed the will with the intention of revoking it. This presumption may be rebutted by a preponderance of the evidence. If this presumption arises and is not rebutted the will is revoked.” A.R.S. Section 14-3415. Thus, your will may not be honored if you only have an electronic version. There is a procedure for storing an electronic will in Arizona, if that is what you choose. However, most estate planning attorneys still prefer to have their clients sign paper documents.

How to ensure your will is found and honored after your death

Regardless of where you choose to store your will, it is crucial to take steps to ensure that it is found and honored after your death. Here are some important considerations:

1. Inform your loved ones: Make sure that your executor and trusted family members or friends are aware of the existence and location of your will. Communicate this information clearly and keep it updated if there are any changes.

2. Provide contact information: Include details of your attorney or the person responsible for managing your estate. This will help your loved ones easily locate the necessary individuals who can assist them in executing your will.

3. Regularly review and update: As mentioned earlier, it is crucial to review and update your will regularly to reflect any changes in your circumstances or wishes. By doing so, you can ensure that your will accurately reflects your intentions and minimizes the risk of disputes or confusion.

4. Consider using a will registry: Some organizations offer will registry services where you can store information about your will’s location. This can provide an additional layer of protection and ensure that your will is found promptly after your passing. (However, Arizona does not have a will registry.)

By taking these steps, you can help ensure that your will is easily located and that your wishes are honored, providing peace of mind for both you and your loved ones.

The importance of updating your will regularly

Finally, it is crucial to emphasize the importance of regularly reviewing and updating your will and other estate planning documents. Life circumstances can change, and it is essential to ensure that your will, beneficiary designations, and other documents accurately reflects your current wishes and circumstances.

Consider reviewing your will together with your estate attorney at least once every few years or whenever there are significant changes in your life, such as marriage, divorce, the birth of children, or acquiring new assets. By keeping your will up to date, you can ensure that it remains a valid and enforceable document that accurately represents your intentions.

Consulting with an experienced estate planning attorney can help you navigate the process of updating your will and ensure that it complies with the legal requirements of your jurisdiction.

Conclusion

Deciding where to store your will is an important decision that requires careful consideration. While a safety deposit box can provide a high level of security, it is essential to weigh the pros and cons and consider your personal circumstances. (Hints: we listed more cons above than pros.)

Consider the accessibility issues that may arise with a safety deposit box, as well as the potential legal requirements for accessing the box after your passing. Explore alternative options, such as storing your will with your attorney or in a fireproof safe at home.

Remember to inform your loved ones about the location of your will and regularly review and update it to reflect any changes in your circumstances or wishes. By taking these steps, you can ensure that your will is easily found and that your wishes are honored, providing peace of mind for yourself and your loved ones.

Have questions about estate planning? Give us a call today.

Secure your legacy and protect your loved ones’ future. Give us a call at 602-443-4888. We’re here to help.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Founding attorney Paul Deloughery has been an attorney since 1998, became a Certified Family Wealth Advisor. He is also the founder of Sudden Wealth Protection Law.

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