So Where Are Your Most Important Estate-Planning Documents?

Posted March 2018

For most of us, encountering one of life's milestones prompts us to prepare a will—and we finally go through the process of assigning assets to our loved ones and charitable beneficiaries. Often, however, the will is then tucked away in a desk drawer or safe-deposit box, all but forgotten.

Where should you store your will and other important estate-planning papers? If a will cannot be found, an estate will be distributed according to the often inflexible intestacy rules of state government.

You should keep your original will in an attorney's vault—or in a bank vault if the bank is acting as executor. Keeping your will in a safe-deposit box can create delays, since many states restrict access to such boxes without court approval. See the list below for how to safeguard your records and documents.

Gifts by will are an integral part of the American philanthropic tradition. Our tax laws encourage our support of charitable institutions through tax deductions and estate-tax savings. Through your will you can continue to support us and the other organizations that you have assisted during your lifetime.


In addition to your will, your personal and financial records, legal documents, and tax returns are all essential to an efficient settlement of your estate. As such, they should be safely stored but readily accessible when needed. The following list shows those records and documents that will prove helpful, suggests where they should be stored, and explains why they are important.

Original Will/Trust, Power of Attorney, and Health Care Directives

  • Location: attorney's vault or bank vault; retain copies at home
  • Value: irreplaceable documents, essential for carrying out your estate plan

Investment Documents (stock certificates, bonds, CDs, deeds, and titles)

  • Location: safe-deposit box
  • Value: required for sale, distribution, or collection

Insurance Policies

  • Location: safe-deposit box
  • Value: required to make claims

Tax Returns

  • Location: file at home (keep irreplaceable records and receipts in safe-deposit box)
  • Value: helpful to executor when filing final income-tax return and estate-tax return

Asset Inventory

  • Location: safe-deposit box
  • Value: necessary to locate and collect property
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