Should You Keep Your Estate Documents in a Safe Deposit Box?

So you finally met with an attorney and finished your estate planning documents. Congratulations! Now, what do you do with these important papers? Clients often ask me if a safe deposit box is the best spot to store them. Well, it depends.

Arizona law says that when it appears a safe deposit box may contain the only known copy of a will or life insurance documents, “the repository may be opened by two employees of the lessor in the presence of any person who presents himself and claims to be interested in the contents.” This is better than some states that may require a court order or other requirements.

Still, it requires your family knowing about the box and its location. Also, most banks will usually not allow other property to be removed from the box until the person named or appointed as the estate’s executor undertakes the steps necessary to transfer the contents.

A better choice would be to open the box in a joint account name or even better still put the box in the name of your revocable living trust. This way the successor trustee of your trust can retrieve them right away.

If you are going to pass on the safe deposit box, the most logical place for your estate planning documents is in your home or office, but protect them from fire and/or flood if possible. Keep in mind if you use fire- and water-proof safe, make sure someone you know and trust has the lock combination.

Other choices:

  • As your attorney to retain a copy of your documents.
  • Ask your executor to hold the documents.
  • Ask a friend or personal representative to hold them.
  • As mentioned, your successor trustee is another option to store them for you.

Be sure not to hide your documents too well. Just in case, you want them immediately accessible. If the signed copies can’t be found after death, the presumption will be that you either did not leave a will or you destroyed it. The court might proceed as though you died “intestate,” without an estate plan. Your assets will pass to your closest kin in an order set by state law rather than by the terms you set out in your estate plan. So planning how your documents are stored is as important as getting them created in the first place.

AZ Law:
A.R.S. 6-1008. “Procedure on death of lessee In the event only one lessee is named in the lease of a repository and the lessee dies, or on the death of last surviving lessee under a tenancy in two or more names, the repository may be opened by two employees of the lessor in the presence of any person who presents himself and claims to be interested in the contents. The employees may remove any document which appears to be of a testamentary nature and deliver it to any person named in the document as executor or to a clerk of the superior court. The employees may also remove any policies insuring the life of the deceased lessee and deliver them to the beneficiaries named in the policies. All other contents of the repository shall be retained by the lessor and shall be delivered only to the person legally entitled to them.”