In Elder Law News

Female signs digital legal document on tablet with stylus.Among your key estate planning documents are your will, living wills, powers of attorney, and medical directives. Securing these somewhere your survivors can easily access them is crucial. Consider storing other information, like birth certificates, marriage licenses, and medical records, in a secure spot as well.

Different Document Storage Solutions

Many people today are striving to become as paperless as possible. They may choose to store their data on memory sticks or an external hard drive. Others use online data storage services that keep this information in the cloud so that they can share files securely with loved ones.

Many still prefer maintaining paper records. Whatever form your documents are in, you can store copies in your home or a safe deposit box.

How you choose to store your relevant data depends on the amount of labor and time you are willing to invest. Going paperless is generally safe and convenient, and relatively easy if you've already scanned and saved your printed documents. Many people already have their information in a digital format.

Access to Digital Assets

Don't forget about your digital assets, such as your social media, email, online storefront, and smartphone passwords. From frequent flier miles to Netflix subscriptions, you want to keep these in accessible files for your survivors, too.

Digital documents require giving a trusted person access to online accounts to pay bills and close accounts. Your executor, trustee, or agent should be able to access this information in emergencies and after your death.

Scanning Your Digital Information

Some of your organizing will likely include creating digital copies of tangible documents. These might include your Social Security card, passport, and driver's license.

Scanning these documents doesn’t make them a legal copy. However, it will be easier to replace lost or stolen documents if you have a copy available. It also puts the information in an easily accessible format. That way, your loved ones will not have to rummage through your home to find the document.

Of course, keeping original documents in a fireproof safe or a bank deposit box is never a bad idea.

Organizing and Storing Your Estate Planning Documents and Other Important Files

You may not be comfortable using digital devices. Ask someone in your family to help you set up your digital file system and show you the basics. If you like, your documents can travel with you wherever you go, and you can also share this information with others.

Online file storage possibilities are many, but the most popular options include:

  • Microsoft OneDrive
  • Google Drive
  • Apple iCloud

These services already offer free limited storage in the cloud; for additional storage capacity, you can purchase an upgrade.

If you prefer storing documents locally on a physical storage device, you must have a backup plan (or plans!). For example, your computer settings allow you to schedule backups automatically. Look for your system backup and restore options.

If you’re unsure, you can always ask a loved one or Google how to locate your computer settings for these features. Remember to run your backups regularly to keep your information up to date.

You can also purchase an external USB hard drive for file backups. Look for a 1- or 2-terabyte drive that can house all of your information and updates quickly. Smaller USB memory sticks also work, though you'll likely find they have limited space. Memory sticks might be enough for your needs and transport easily if you travel and want to keep your most important information on hand.

With any of these backup methods, you should have an extra drive to store identical information. Consider keeping this in a fireproof safe or a bank safe-deposit box.

Safely storing your financial and other valuable personal data is often a combination of these methods. For your loved one to access financial records, they will require:

  • Usernames
  • Passwords
  • Social Security numbers
  • Account numbers
  • Online account URLs

Feel unsure about your ability to organize and safely store this critical data? Talk with an accountant or trusted advisor. They may be able to help you create a system before you go about copying or scanning your records.

Various digital storage systems and services are at your disposal, too. The mobile app Mind Your Loved Ones (MYLO) is one service that offers secure storage for your electronic files. It allows you to store critical medical information, health care directives, and other essential legal documents on your smartphone. With it, you can send information directly to health care providers, insurance companies, or trusted friends or family members.

MYLO gives you the option to do this via email, text, fax, or print. Storage is not cloud-based; the app stores your information locally on your tablet or smartphone for enhanced security.

Everplans is another available option, which you can start organizing and storing some key information for free. The premium plan charges a yearly fee, giving you access to a wider range of supports.

Whichever service you use, do your research first.

Help From an Estate Planning Attorney

Estate plans and priorities change over the years. This is why it’s important to update your information every few years and after significant life events. Ensure that your executors, trustees, and agents will be able to find your information quickly when they need to do so. Consult a qualified estate planning attorney near you to work with you on this.

These professionals can provide checklists and other resources to assist with organizing and storing your legal documents. Have them do a thorough review of your assets and records and identify anything that might be missing.

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