If a friend or relative becomes incapacitated, would you have access to the legal documents necessary to seamlessly manage on-going medical, financial, or business affairs?
If you die, would your relatives, executor, personal representative, or other persons have ready access to the necessary documents to administer your estate, to follow your wishes, and to address other financial matters?
Documents including wills, powers of attorney, and health care advance directives/living wills are important documents. The effective use of the documents is often predicated on these documents being accessible quickly. Multiple options for storing these documents exist and each option has risks and benefits. Presented here are some of the important considerations when choosing whether to use a safe deposit box to store important documents such as a will, power of attorney, or advance directive/living will.
Things to Consider Before Choosing a Safe Deposit Box
- Who will have access to the safe deposit box. A bank or credit union will generally restrict access to the lessor(s) of a safe deposit box. If you are incapacitated or die, the person(s) who are tasked with managing your affairs or opening your estate may need a court order to access a safe deposit box. Obtaining a court order to access a safe deposit box involves the expenditure of both time and money. This can be avoided by adding a joint owner/lessor to the safe deposit box, putting the safe deposit box into the name of a trust (which allows your successor trustee to access the safe deposit box), or storing documents elsewhere.
- How quickly you or someone acting on your behalf may need to access a document. A safe deposit box located within a bank or credit union may be accessible only during the bank’s regular business hours. As noted above, in certain circumstances, a court order may be required to access a safe deposit box. Securing such a court order may take time.
- Under what circumstances access should be provided. A joint owner/lessor will have access rights to the safe deposit box that are similar to your own. In contrast, access by a successor trustee or by an agent or attorney in fact can be restricted to be effective only upon your incapacity. Alternatively, absent joint ownership, or documents providing access in the event of your incapacity, a court order may be required to access the safe deposit box.
- Who should know about your use of a safe deposit box. It can be important that person(s) know that you have a safe deposit box, so that your important documents can be located at the relevant time. For example, when you are known to have executed a will and to have retained the will in your possession, if the will or codicil cannot be found at the time of your death, a rebuttable presumption arises that you destroyed the document. Maryland Orphans Courts advise that it is very important to let one’s loved ones or other responsible people know where to find the originals of these documents.
- Whether you are willing and able to bear an on-going cost. A safe deposit box, in contrast to other options, is likely to have a modest annual cost.
- Whether you can appropriately keep track of your safe deposit box key over time.
Secure storage of a will, power of attorney, or health care advance directive/living will is warranted. However, management of your personal and financial affairs and estate administration can be complicated without prompt access to your will, power of attorney, or advance directive/living will. It is important to consider the relative merits of various storage options. For assistance determining whether a safe deposit box or other options are best for storage of your important documents, contact us today.
Contact the Estate Planning & Probate Lawyers at Andalman & Flynn in Maryland
Our experienced probate, estate planning, and estate administration lawyers at Andalman & Flynn are familiar with matters involving wills, powers of attorney, and health care advance directives/living wills in Maryland. Whether you have questions about the preparation of wills, powers of attorney, or advance directives, or need assistance in locating or accessing important documents to probate or to administer the estate of a decedent, or to address an adult guardianship matter, contact us online today. For a consultation, call (301) 563-6685, or toll-free at 1-888-558-7871.
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