What If I Can't Find My Loved One's Documents?

Father and Son

If a loved one dies or becomes incapacitated, finding their estate planning documents is essential. These documents are critical to making decisions, accessing accounts, and discovering one’s wishes regarding their money and property.  However, despite their importance, people often to fail to communicate where these documents are.  

Here are a few suggestions for where to search. 

  1. In a safe or lockbox at home. A common location is a personal safe or lockbox. These are typically fireproof and waterproof. It is not unusual for attorneys to advise clients to keep their documents in one of these containers. Search the home to find out if one exists. 

  1. With the drafting attorney. The documents may be with the original drafting attorney. Search your loved one’s belongings for the lawyer’s business card or any correspondence. The attorney may not be able to release information to you if you are not named as a fiduciary (i.e. trustee or executor). You may need to ask immediate family members to contact the attorney. If the attorney does not have the original, a signed copy may be available. This is helpful for financial and medical powers of attorney that are not typically required to be originals.  

  1. In a safe-deposit box. Many lawyers advise clients to keep documents in a safe-deposit box at a bank. A safe-deposit box provides heightened security and care. The heightened security may pose a challenge if your loved one did not provide proper instructions regarding accessing the box. In that case, you may be required to seek a court order granting access.  

What happens if you still cannot find the estate planning documents? 

You will probably have to proceed as though there were none. For incapacitated individuals, you may have to start the guardianship process. If your loved one has died, you will have to begin an intestacy probate process. This process can be long and arduous but not impossible.  You do not need to handle it alone. Call our office to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss how we can help.  

The attorneys at Pearson Bollman Law practice in the areas of estate planning, probate/trust administration, special needs trusts, and elder law, which includes Medicaid and VA Pension Planning.  We have offices in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Bettendorf, Dubuque, and Okoboji. Call us to today at 515-727-0986. 

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