When choosing a place to store your advance directives, will, or other estate planning documents, the most important factors to consider are ease of access and a location that will keep the documents free from harm.

Healthcare advance directives, such as living wills and health care surrogate designations, must be quickly accessible. It is a good idea to give a copy of these to the designated and alternate surrogate identified within the documents. Copies can also be given to other close family members or a primary physician.

Many people believe the best place to keep a will and other important papers is in a safe deposit box, but this is not advisable. For example, if a person dies and he is the sole lessee of the box, it may take additional time, and possibly a court order, for a family member or personal representative to obtain the documents. This could cause delay and increased costs during the probate process.

A good option for keeping documents safe and accessible is to keep them home. It may suffice to simply put the papers in a file folder placed in a location that is easy to remember, such as inside a desk or dresser drawer. Placing the papers in a fire- and waterproof document box or safe will add an additional layer of protection, but make sure someone else knows the combination or has access to the key. It is also a good idea to provide a copy to the person who will serve as the executor of the estate.

Wherever a person chooses to keep his or her estate planning papers, it is essential that trusted individuals know the storage location to avoid confusion and delay if and when the documents are needed. If the papers are not easy to find, a difficult time could be made even more trying for those who are left behind. It may be wise to contact an estate planning attorney for advice on the best place to store such important documents.