Once you’ve created your end-of-life plan, where should you keep your estate planning documents so that they are accessible when you or your family needs them? In Virginia and West Virginia, there is no legally mandated place or way of storing your documents that you must follow. But here are some suggestions we have seen help keep peoples’ documents safe and accessible:

1. Store all your estate planning documents together.

We suggest you store all your estate documents together in an organized manner. This means keeping both legal and non-legal documents regarding your end-of-life wishes in one place so that your family or personal representatives do not have to go looking for separate documents. This is one of the reasons we give our clients an organized binder in which to store all their estate documents when they complete the process with us.

2. Store your estate planning documents in a safe, fireproof location.

We also suggest you store your documents in a safe place that can withstand natural disasters, such as a fireproof box or gun safe.

It should also be in your home, or wherever you are currently living, not in someone else’s home. Some people do give copies of their estate plans to their agents or family members, but we generally do not recommend this. It is not wise to have your originals, or copies of them, passed around, because at the time of your death you do not want any discrepancies about your wishes. It is best to keep control of your own documents until it is time for your agents or your personal representative to act.

3. Do NOT store your estate planning documents in these places:

  • A safety deposit box at the bank: Safety deposit boxes can become an issue if you pass, because many banks require a will to open a safety deposit box. If the will is IN the deposit box, your personal representative will be at an impasse with your bank. If a family member is an owner of the safety deposit box, that can work, but this is assuming your family member is alive and capable of accessing the box when needed.
  • A place that is overly complicated to find: While keeping your documents private and safe is a good thing, make sure that you put them someplace you will not forget about, and that will be easy for your agents and personal representative to access when they need to.
  • Out in the open: On the other hand, do not store your documents out in the open where others can read or tamper with them.

4. Give specific people knowledge of your estate documents’ location.

After deciding where to store your estate planning documents, let key people know where they are and how to access them. At a minimum, you need to let your personal representative or trustee, medical agent, and financial agent know where your documents are. Your medical and financial agents will need to access your advance medical directive and power of attorney if you become incapacitated while you are alive, and your personal representative or trustee will need to be able to access your will, trust, and other documents once you pass. If it works best for your situation, you can also let other key family members or professional contacts you trust know where your estate plan is stored, so that they can help if you become ill or die.



Joshua E. Hummer, Esq. is the founder of Relational Estate and Elder Law, and he has been a practicing attorney for over 15 years. While experienced in many parts of the law, Josh specializes in estate planning, estate administration, and elder law. He is licensed in both Virginia and West Virginia. Josh’s passion lies in helping people gain peace of mind about the future through holistic legal planning. When he isn’t meeting with clients or crafting legal documents, Josh enjoys spending time with his lovely wife, Jill, and their four vibrant children.

Disclaimer: The information you obtain in this post is not, nor is intended to be, legal advice. This blog shares general best practices when navigating Virginia or West Virginia law, but you should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.