As Prince's recent death reminded the world, life is easier for everyone if you remember to write a will – preferably long before you expect your family will need it (see What Is a Will and Why Do I Need One?). A will is one of the most important steps – but not the only step – in estate planning. (And no, estate planning isn't something only the ultra rich need to do. Anyone with assets or dependents needs to make provisions for them so they are not left to the control of your state's probate court.)
If you are proactive and execute the necessary estate-planning tasks while you’re alive and well, the other challenge is that you'll end up with a thick file of important documents and a document-storage headache to match. Recently, Phoenix, Ariz., entrepreneurs Brian and Natasha Beal became fed up with the massive amounts of paperwork after mapping out plans for their own estates. They ended up forming Document Trunk, a digital estate-planning document storage platform that launched in March 2016, to develop a solution.
As you consider how you'll handle your papers, it's worth looking at this option.
How Document Trunk Works
For $9.99 per month or $99.00 per year, you can store up to 10GB of Microsoft Word documents, images and/or videos related to your estate. Files are also automatically uploaded to the cloud. Investopedia's Estate Planning Basics tutorial will walk you through the kinds of documents you need.
Once your information is entered into the database, a search is conducted daily using a unique web crawler to ensure that you are still living. If the system detects your name in an obituary or death notice, a representative will confirm the information and immediately contact the primary recipients indicated in your registration. This can be particularly useful if your closest relatives live in a distant state or country and you are not in regular contact.
Document Trunk allows you to enter up to 14 primary recipients who should be notified in the event of your demise, but only once their identity has been verified. You are also required to confirm your well-being quarterly to remain active in the database.
Is It Worth the Price?
That’s for you to decide, but there are some key benefits you should be aware of.
Document Security: Documents are tucked away in the basement or in your desk drawer could be destroyed, stolen or misplaced. However, digital storage ensures that your documents are kept secure through encryption.
Restricted Access: You control who can read the documents – they're not just lying in a drawer for someone to find. You can also use digital storage for a draft of your will before you're ready for it to be executed..
Daily Updates: Since the platform performs daily searches/scans, your loved ones won’t have to go days, weeks or months not knowing about your passing. Instead, they can be quickly notified and begin taking action, promptly.
Risks of Digital Storage
The biggest one is legal. Digital copies of your estate-planning documents may not meet the legal standards for an acceptable will set by the probate court in the county where your estate is located.
“[Online] archives may be a good place to store information for an executor, however, a probate court may not accept a printed copy from such a digital will vault when an original is required,” notes LegalZoom. What digital storage will do is alert your executor to all the documents you have prepared. They will still likely need properly executed hard copies.
You also need to be sure that the contact information for your primary beneficiaries is kept current at all times so your digital-planning efforts won’t be in vain.
The Bottom Line
Storing your estate-planning documents on a digital platform can take the hassle out of making sure your executor has a complete set of your final wishes, and it isn’t an extremely costly option.
Whether this particular program is the best solution for your needs is something you should discuss with your estate-planning attorney. He or she may suggest other digital options for storing your legal papers.
Even if you use a digital system, be mindful of the potential drawbacks associated with electronic storage. To be safe, make sure that the appropriate person (your attorney, probably) has properly executed hard copies of your will and other key documents – and that information indicating the location of your documents is left with your executor(s), family or others who may need them. For more, see Estate Planning: 16 Things to Do Before You Die.