Monday, September 22, 2008

Safe Keeping of Documents

Once you’ve taken the time to complete your estate planning documents, it is important to keep the papers safe and secure. In Wisconsin a copy of a will is not considered a will, and is generally not accepted by the Register in Probate. That means that the original must be safely stored and available when needed. Several options are available for storage, each with pros and cons:

Safe-deposit box: While safe from destruction (by a fire) or tampering, safe-deposit boxes do generate a yearly fee (generally $35 or more). Also, the will is not readily available for quick changes. Most banks should allow a family member to access the box to search for a will, however, this may not always go as smoothly as planned.

Register in Probate: Wisconsin law allows a person to deposit a will with the register in probate in the county where he or she lives. Depending on county practice, there may be a service charge for the service. Drawbacks to this method are that the will is not readily available for changes, and the person may forget to take the will with them if he or she moves in the future.

Fiduciary’s safe: A trust company serving or nominated to serve under the will may offer its safe for storage. However, many people do not have a fiduciary entity named in the will, so this is not a common option.

Home Safe or Strongbox: Far more affordable and easy to access, home safes and strongboxes are a good option for most people. However, they do not guarantee safety from fire or tampering.

Retention by attorney: While a common practice in the past, the State Bar of Wisconsin does not promote drafting attorneys keeping client documents in the firm safe. Safe keeping by the attorney creates the impression that the attorney is seeking to preserve future representation for either updating the will or conducting the probate.

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