Many of you may have been adversely affected by the Northern California fires that started in the early hours of Monday, October 9, which are still ongoing as this is written. We have already had several calls from clients and their families reporting the loss of their homes due to fire. Such a catastrophe often results in the loss of important estate planning documents as well.
So, what should you do if you lose your estate plan?
Most of the time, as long as you can get a hold of a copy of your estate plan, it will be alright. If you have a trust, the loss or destruction of your original trust document does not revoke or otherwise eliminate the trust. It will still remain in full force and effect. If you lose your documents, contact your attorney. he or she should maintain a copy of all estate planning documents created by the firm, so it’s usually easy enough to get a copy from him or her.
It is also a very good idea to obtain a digital copy of your documents for safe keeping in case your lawyer’s records are also lost or destroyed. You can have your estate plan scanned and emailed to you, and you can forward a digital copy to everyone you want, such as some or all of your children. This way, even if all physical copies are lost, the details of your estate plan will still exist.
Don’t worry so much about the deed to your home. If your deed has been recorded at the County Recorder’s office, then the original physical document is no longer very important. And these days, the County’s records are backed up digitally as well, so even if the Recorder’s office burns down, proof of your ownership of your home will not be lost.
In your estate plan, there are two documents of which the original documents are very important and ought to be stored someplace safe, such as a safe deposit box or fireproof safe. You need to keep a hold of your original Durable Power of Attorney. Banks and other financial institutions usually do not accept copies, although your attorney or a Notary Public can make certified copies for you if they inspect your original DPOA first.
Your original will is also important. It is possible to probate a photocopy of a will if the original is lost in a fire or other disaster, but this is a bit more complicated and give persons challenging the will an opening to claim that the will was revoked by you instead of being destroyed in a fire. What this really means is that if you lose your original will, you should see your attorney, who should be able to reprint the will with today’s date on it and let you sign it again.
The most important thing to remember is that it’s only money. Whatever you do, don’t rush into a burning home or delay an evacuation to gather your trust documents. Keep it in perspective. Your health and safety are far more important.
Len & Rosie