Clients call this law firm asking for a copy of their will or other estate planning documents because they cannot locate the original all of the time. Our first response is to tell them that if they cannot find the original document, then they do not really have a will. In New York, only a document bearing the original signature of the testator and witnesses can be submitted to probate. While a photocopy or electronic copy of the document may exist, it is not the original and will be rejected by the Surrogate’s Court when seeking to have an estate probated. It is not until the loved person becomes admitted at the hospital under an emergency or that person passes that those left behind start the search for estate planning documents. Another overlooked catastrophic event is damage or loss of estate planning documents after a natural disaster.
Domestic weather events, including nor’easters, tropical storms, and hurricanes often bring a great deal of water to the shorelines and shore communities of New York State. Emergency plans should include provisions for the preservation of estate planning documents. When people are asked or ordered to evacuate their homes, because of emergency weather conditions, they often only leave with the clothes on their backs and their loved ones. Not all temporary shelters for example, allow people to bring their pets with them and many times the pets stay behind. The last thing on peoples’ mind, when evacuating their homes, is collecting and preserving estate planning documents.
What are estate planning documents?