What to Store With Your Estate Planning Documents

Keeping track of your estate planning documents and all the other items that you were told to keep in a safe place can be a daunting task. Even if you are the most organized person, keeping this up to date and knowing what to keep and what to toss can be a struggle. Most law firms will provide you with an estate planning binder, and this article will review what should be included in the binder from your attorney and what you should consider adding to make the job of your Successor Trustees a bit easier. Remember, you won’t be capable of helping the person when they are called upon to act, so you’ve got to be proactive here.

Free tip – maybe you are reading this, and you don’t have an attorney, nor an estate planning binder to organize. That is OK, keep reading because you may gain some knowledge that you can take to your own loved ones and help them out. If you are the person that will be tasked with dealing with their affairs when they are gone, you can help set yourself up for success by getting them organized now!

In your estate planning binder, you should have sections or tabs for your trust, pour-over will, power of attorney for finances, and health care documents. Those are pretty standard but keep reading because here is where you can take your estate plan from an average C grade to an A+.

  • Real Estate: If you own real estate, it should be titled in the name of your trust. Place a copy of that deed transferring the property into your trust right there in the binder. This way your Successor Trustee knows you own that property and knows it was properly titled to your trust. This can be especially helpful if you have multiple pieces of property, and they are located in different geographical areas.
  • Businesses: If you own a business or are a member or a shareholder of a company, it is important that your Successor Trustee knows this, knows what you own, and who to contact when you are gone. Consider adding the latest K-1, entity formation documents, and even the contact information of the management contact/company.
  • Bank Accounts: It is helpful to know that you have accounts at Bank of America and Wells Fargo, but if you put a bank statement right there in the binder, now your Successor Trustee can see immediately how the account is titled, which branch you go to, and other pertinent information.
  • Investment Accounts: Similar to bank accounts, but this should also show the contact information of your advisor, who will be super helpful when called upon to act.
  • Retirement Accounts: Retirement accounts don’t get re-titled into the name of your trust, so here it is really important that you not only keep an account statement in the binder but print out and store a copy of the beneficiary designation form that you submitted to the institution (even better if you also include a confirmation of that beneficiary which your institution likely provided when you made that update).
  • Memorial Instructions: I know it can be difficult to think about some of these end-of-life decisions, but the more information to provide to your loved ones, the less stress they will endure. Take the time to write down what you want to happen when you are gone.
  • Personal Information: How much of your daily life is in your head? It is important to jot down the important information that your successors will need to take over and wind up your affairs. A good personal information worksheet will list your contact information, the contact information of your beneficiaries, your advisors, and other information that will be useful (think the combination of your safe).

Where to Store Your Plan: Important documents go in safe deposit boxes, right? Not always. If you store these documents in the safe deposit box then your successors will need to prove their ability to get into the box, and how will they do that? Well, the proof is in the box. Keep the plan in a safe place, and ensure your successors know where to find the binder that you just spent time improving, and how to contact your attorney.


Written by: Danielle P. Barger of Barger & Battiest Law, APC. Danielle P. Barger is a Certified Specialist in Estate Planning Trust and Probate Law (State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization). For additional information on estate planning, please visit her website at dbsquaredlaw.com or call (858) 886-7000.