Still More Decisions!
Right off the bat I'll say that you're going to be better served if your lawyer holds your original documents in a safe or vault at his or her office. Lawyers don't charge for doing so (they like keeping that connection with you!) and when you lose the copies they gave you when you signed the documents, they can make more copies for you from the originals, again without charge. I can't tell you how many times this happens - sometimes multiple times for the same folks. If you kept the originals and then lost them, that would be like not having signed them in the first place, and at some point it could be too late to fix the problem. Likewise, it's not a great solution to keep original documents in your safety deposit box. Sometimes those are hard for agents or family members to get into if the signature authority isn't set up just right, or maybe they'll have a hard time even finding the key.
As for who else gets copies of the documents besides you, that's totally your call, but I also have some thoughts on that subject. Unequivocally, your primary and backup health care agents should have a copy of that document, as should your regular physician. It can't do any harm, because those documents are only activated once a medical decision is made that you aren't capable of acting for yourself. Plus, the rare but potential need for quick decision-making in a heart-stopping emergency trumps any desire to keep this document under lock and key.
When it comes to all the other documents - durable powers of attorney, wills and trusts - my rule of thumb is, don't part with copies unless the time has arrived for the respective agents to take over. For POAs that means when you actually want the agent to take over for you in carrying out the duties and responsibilities you've conferred. Look at it this way, you wouldn't give someone your checkbook while you're still able to write checks, so until you want the agent to write them for you, don't turn over the authority to do so. Besides, writing checks for the cable bill generally isn't the kind of emergency that demands split-second action.
I say hold onto copies of your wills and trusts, too, simply because passing them out to your beneficiaries can cause extreme awkwardness or damage relationships when you later decide to make critical changes. And nearly everyone will, at least once, decide that the kids need to be a wee bit older to be trusted with your life savings, or that Billy the nephew isn't really a worthy recipient of those precious fridge magnets after all. I mean, when you think about it, your wills and trusts are just works in process until you-know-when, and no one wants their first or second draft published.
(Posted on September 14, 2012)