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In a digital world, where should you store your will/trust documents?

In an effort to keep documents safe, people used to store their estate plan with their other papers. This led to problems because the documents would be lost or destroyed if there was a fire or flood. Now people often store important documents on the cloud or a device like a tablet. This offers a certain amount of protection because they can be accessed in case of a fire or flood. However, storing documents in this manner can raise many more issues than it solves. This is because generally when a person dies, state law determines what must happen in the state probate proceeding. In most cases, the "original" of the will must be submitted to the probate court in the county where the person resided. If the original of the will cannot be located and provided to the court, there likely is a provision in your state's probate code that would permit the submission of a photocopy of that signed will. Courts have still not accepted wholeheartedly digital documents partly because of the novelty. That is why it is important to keep the original in a safe location that your beneficiaries are aware of and will have access to. 

Should you lose the original copy of your will, the best practice would be for you to execute a new will which would make things easier for your family and loved ones upon your death. In that case, there would be better assurances that your wishes were followed and carried out. Preparing a new will should not take much time for your attorney. He or she likely still has the word processing file on his or her computer, and could easily modify it for you to execute again. If for some reason this is not done, you may wish to execute a document stating the original was destroyed in a flood or fire but that you did not intend to revoke it. However, it’s important to note that this may not be effective in every instance as many states have very strict requirements in terms of requiring originals and execution formalities.

To keep the originals of your estate planning documents safe, even in the face of disaster, you might consider purchasing a fireproof/waterproof safe for your home or rent a safe deposit box with a local bank where you can still easily access your documents but keep them secure off-site.

Contact Sallen Law for more information on how Pennsylvania and New Jersey state law view digital documents. We proudly serve Montgomery County, Philadelphia and the surrounding areas.