Storing legal documents

It is important for you to store signed originals of your legal documents where they can easily be found by your executor and/or family when you die.

Where should you store signed originals?
If something happens to the original documents, will a photocopy serve as an authentic document?
Can you store electronic copies of your legal documents?

Q. Where should you store signed originals?
A. Most people store their legal documents in a fireproof safe at their house or in a safe deposit box.  Make sure your executor or your family knows where to find the original and any photocopies of your will, living trust, beneficiary forms, power of attorney, guardianship or other legal documents needed when you die.

You should also provide copies of these documents to a trusted third party in case your documents are destroyed or lost.

Q. If something happens to the original documents, will a photocopy serve as an authentic document?
A. Your Last Will and Testament is a unique document.  Many states consider only the original signed document as valid because there is no way of knowing whether the original was replaced or merely misplaced.

Some states have procedures for admitting copies of your will to probate after someone submits affidavits swearing that the original was not replaced.  For this reason, the attorney who drafted the will frequently keeps the original. Make sure someone knows the location of your original will.

Photocopies of other legal documents, including your living will, living trust and power of attorney, can be treated as an authentic document.  Some states require a notary signature on the photocopy of the form.

Q. Can you store electronic copies of your legal documents?
A. The only document that needs to be an original is a will.  (Arizona is unique; there, you can store an electronic copy of a will.)  Other documents can be stored electronically in several states.

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