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A Different Kind of Spring-Cleaning: Part I Where Are Your Legal Documents, and Are They Updated?
As an estate planning attorney, I’moften asked to keep track of other people’s legal paperwork. For example, I am the person tasked with holding the estate planning documents for my daughter, my fiancé, andmyself in our home. Even
though drawing up this type of paperwork is a huge part of my job, I too amhuman and sometimes procrastinate when it comes to properly organizing the documents. In fact, just last year when I was preparing for surgery, I updatedmy advance medical directive but, in the rush to get ready for surgery, did not get around to destroying the old one. Knowing that I needed to set aside some time to get everyone’s folders up-to-date and systematized in case an emergency occurred, I decided tomake time for a different kind of spring-cleaning this year. I started by separating the myriad papers into an individual stack of each person’s documents. Then I reviewed each person’s documents in turn. I laid out each document by type and whether it was an original or a copy. As I looked through the originals and copies, I started to feel frustrated. If I really needed the most current document, I wouldn’t have been able to find it quickly withmy existing systems.
There were several documents that needed to be shredded, includingmy oldmedical directive and some of my daughter’s that had been updated. This is where I had to be very careful; sometimes signing a new document revokes the prior one, but not in all cases. I had to read the new document to see what happened with the prior one. Inmy cleaning, there were several revoked documents, so I shredded them. There is no reason to hold on to revoked paperwork; continuing to store irrelevant paperwork usually only leads to confusion. After setting aside all the updated documents and shredding the revoked ones, I made sure that I had both the original and a copy of each document for each person. I thenmade a folder for each of us, put the copies inside, and stored them inmy study. To properly store the originals,
I put a rubber band around each person’s set of paperwork to keep it separate, and returned them all tomy waterproof and fireproof lockbox. I also made a note on the copies of where the originals are stored in the house. While there are certainly more exciting activities than paperwork management, I promise that you’ll feel better after taking the time to get your paperwork in order. I know that topics associated with wills, trusts, powers of attorney, andmedical directives can be stressful or even frightening at times, but organizing and storing them in a safe and readily available place will give you peace of mind. So before you start taking apart your garage, dusting behind your refrigerator, or weeding your garden beds, I urge you to do a different (and arguably more important) kind of spring-cleaning this year. Keep an eye out for“Part II,”where we will dive into what your now-organized documents actually say and whether or not they make sense.
“I know that topics associated with wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and medical directives can be stressful or even frightening at times, but organizing and storing them in a safe and readily available space will give you peace of mind.”
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