A lot of people fail to put wills, powers of attorneys, insurance documents and other paperwork, as well as information such as bank account numbers and even online passwords, in one single location.
It's a problem seen time and time again by Lisa Hay, founder and president of advisory firm Ascend Financial and author of "Estate Planning Checklist: Prepare Your Affairs for Your Heirs."
People often leave these important documents in hard-to-find folders or somewhere no one would think of looking, she said.
It's easy to see how an estate plan can be derailed if people can't find a will, insurance documents or other critical information. If papers can't be found, it will be that much harder to carry out your wishes after death, according to Hay.
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A lot of people do keep these documents in a safety deposit box, but that "can be tricky," she said. The heirs' names have to be on the box in order to get into it. If they're not, then the bank can lock it up and let a probate court decide who gets to open it again.
The best option is to keep the original will with an attorney—courts typically want to see the actual document, not a photocopy—and other documents in a fireproof safe at home or somewhere that can be easily accessed by the estate's executor.