In recent years, advances in technology has enabled Americans to maintain digital files and copies of documents almost effortlessly. While the temptation to do away with paper copies of important documents in an effort to clear away clutter and become better organized is strong, when it comes to estate planning documents, copies may not be legally sufficient. Although backing up estate planning documents such as wills, trusts and powers of attorney with digital copies is always a good idea, a probate lawyer cannot stress enough how critical it is to keep original documents safely stored and accessible.
Properly Storing Wills
Under Illinois law, any person who is in possession of a decedent’s will is required to submit the original document to the clerk of the court in the county where the deceased individual lived. If the original document cannot be located, the state assumes that revocation of the will must have taken place and the decedent is presumed to have died intestate. The presumption of revocation must then be overcome before any copies of a will can be admitted to probate. Overcoming the presumption of revocation can be very challenging and requires clear and convincing evidence that the original will was not indented to be revoked. A few scenarios in which the court may allow copies of a will to be admitted include:
- If the will was stored in a home or office that suffered significant damage due to a disaster like a house fire or flood and the original will cannot be produced or is illegible, the courts may allow a copy to be admitted.
- If the decedent did not have possession of the original document and there is no evidence of it being revoked, the court may approve a copy.
- If the will was intentionally destroyed or misplaced after the death of the individual, copies may be admissible.
Trusts and Powers of Attorney
Unlike with wills, maintaining copies of trusts and powers of attorney can be very useful because these documents are sometimes needed while the individual is still living. Financial institutions, medical providers, insurance companies and title companies may, in fact, require that they are provided with copies of these types of documents. If the original documents are destroyed or misplaced, however, it is important to have them re-executed as soon as possible and the new documents should be stored in a location, such as a safety deposit box or a fire proof safe.