Once you’ve inked your name on your estate planning documents, you may be tempted to throw them in a drawer at home and move on to your next project.

That is not the best plan.

Instead, think about when and how the documents will be needed and then act accordingly.

Let’s start with your will.  After you are dead someone – probably your executor or a beneficiary – will need to take the original will to a lawyer so it can be probated.    Put your original will where it can be easily accessed after your death, and then tell your executor or beneficiary where it is stored.  A safety deposit box is usually not the best place to store it.

As for handing out copies of your will – most attorneys recommend that you use caution in giving a copy to any beneficiaries during your lifetime because that can cause problems if you decide to change your will.  Beneficiaries who have their inheritance cut have been known to contest the probate of a later will.

Your written designation of burial agent is another document that your agent will need immediately after you die.

Give a copy of this document to your agent now so there is no delay in making final arrangements for burial or cremation.   As with all of the remaining documents, tell your agent where the original is stored.

Your durable power of attorney document designates an agent to handle your finances for you during your lifetime.

Your agent will not be able to act under the power of attorney without having at least a copy of it.   If you trust your agent, then give him or her a copy of the document now.  If you designated alternate agents, provide a copy to the alternates, too.

Your medical authorization is actually 3 separate documents:  a medical power of attorney, a directive to physicians, and a HIPAA release.  Your medical POA agent must be able to present a copy of the document to your doctor or health care facility in order to act, so send a copy to your agent.  The directive to physicians is your instruction regarding administering life-sustaining treatment to you in the event of a terminal condition or an irreversible health condition.  It is very important for your agent to have a copy of that document now.  The HIPAA release give the doctors and health care facilities authority to release your health care records to certain people –  provide a copy to everyone you named.

You might think it is a good idea to also give a copy of your health care documents to your doctors and health care facilities.  You would be right, but it is a bit like whack-a-mole because, especially as you get older, you will find yourself consulting with more and more doctors and facilities.

If you update any of these documents, do not forget to tell your agents.

The foregoing are general guidelines; your family dynamics may dictate a different course of action.


Virginia Hammerle is a licensed Texas attorney.  Her practice includes estate planning, litigation, guardianship and probate law.  See hammerle.com for her blog and newsletter sign-up.  This column does not constitute legal advice.