Storing Estate Documents

Storing Estate Documents

Question: In last week’s column you wrote about what information, papers, and estate planning documents to keep on hand for my beneficiaries and how to organize them with a guidebook that’s available from the Hospice Giving Foundation (   Where is the best place to keep all this?

Answer: In the past, the attorney who drafted your estate planning documents would often keep them in his office.  However, many attorneys are finding this to be impractical, and most law firms do not have fireproof storage.         

Reasonable alternatives might include a safe deposit box at a bank or a fireproof safe at home.  Other alternatives, which I don’t recommend, include a pile on your desk, a desk drawer, or a file in a non-fireproof file cabinet. 

Last week, I mentioned “EstateDoc Vault,” a service offered by Herald columnist Liza Horvath of Monterey Trust Management in Monterey.  It provides you with a safe place to store all your original documents along with electronic copies of them.  Physically, your documents are safely stored in a vault similar to the ones you might see in a bank.  The electronic documents are immediately available to you at any time as well as to anyone you give permission to.  One great feature is that it allows first responders and loved ones to access your health care directives, names and phone numbers, and documents provided you give them a pin access number.  Kyle Krasa (, an estate-planning attorney in Pacific Grove, provides an electronic storage service called “LegalVault.” Ask your attorney for a recommendation. 

Question: Your column last week was a great reminder to get my paperwork in order and up to date.  What do you think of my giving a copy of my papers and guidebook to someone out of state?

Answer:  Great idea.  That way if a natural disaster (fire, flood, earthquake, tornado, etc.) occurs in your area, someone will have all the information they need to handle your affairs.  You could scan them, copy them to a thumb drive, and place them with relatives or friends who live afar. 

Question:  What about passwords and access codes?

Answer:  Nowadays it is difficult to do much without passwords and codes.  Whether it is changing your settings on your cable box, accessing your bank or credit cards or brokerage statements online, withdrawing money from an ATM, or even using your cellphone--you need a password or access code.  Keeping a list of these passwords and codes along with all the other information your trusted estate representative might need will save them time and make their job much easier. 

Question: What happens to my social security number (SSN) when I die?

Answer: It dies with you.  According to the Social Security Administration, your social security number is never reassigned.  There are almost one billion possible combinations of 9-digit social security numbers and less than one-half of these have already been assigned.   The SSA says they issue less than 6 million new numbers a year, so they probably won’t run out for at least 75 more years.  It’s likely that well before the numbers run out the government will come up with a new non-numeric scheme for personal identification that will better protect us all from identity theft.


Kenneth B. Petersen CFP®, EA, MBA, AIFA® is an investment advisor and Principal of Monterey Private Wealth, Inc., a Wealth Management Firm in Monterey.   He welcomes questions that you may have concerning investing, taxes, retirement, or estate planning.  Send your questions to: Ken Petersen, 2340 Garden Road Suite 202, Monterey, CA93940 or email them to