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Who Should Get Copies of Your Will and Trust?

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Copies of your will and trust

You’ve signed your will and powers of attorney. Maybe you’ve even signed a living trust. But now who should get copies of your will and trust? Is the answer different for your powers of attorney?

What to do with the original documents

First, let’s just say a word about what you should do with the original documents. We’ve written about this before, and at greater length. Actually, we wrote about what NOT to do with the documents. We were responding to a friend and colleague’s post on the subject, which we still think was quite good.

Should the original documents remain with us, or go home with you? We have long favored the latter; other lawyers regularly retain original documents, but we usually do not. But we do realize that the originals are more likely to get lost or misplaced at your house than in our office. That means you have to keep track of the documents.

Should you put them in a bank safety deposit box? We’re not big fans of that idea. The documents are not intrinsically valuable — that is, a thief is not likely to steal them from your home. In the meantime, the documents will be needed in what is likely to be an unpredicted emergency. They should be where people can find them.

Do you have a secure place for documents in your home? Maybe you have your car title, or insurance documents, or other important papers in a fire-resistant cabinet or safe. Put your will and trust there. Don’t have any such place? We usually joke about the top left desk drawer in your study — that’s where everyone will look first for documents. The second place they’ll look: on your bookshelf.

But who should get copies of your will and trust?

Meanwhile, should you make a copy of your estate planning documents and give them to all your kids? How about the people you named as agent, personal representative, or successor trustee?

The answer is not really a legal one. It has more to do with your family dynamics, living situation and trust level.

Our favorite approach: give copies to everyone who will be affected. That would usually include your children, the agents named in your powers of attorney, your successor trustee — pretty much everyone. But that is not required, and it can sometimes have unexpected effects.

We have had clients share documents fully with their family, only to be confronted by angry children who expected to receive a larger share of the estate. We have had clients keep the estate distribution private, and left unanswered questions on their demise. Why did dad choose my sister to handle things? Why does my brother get a larger share than anyone else? My share goes to a trust, but my brother’s and sister’s are not — why is that?

There is no reliably correct approach. You might consider having a family meeting, handing out copies and fielding questions. If you’d like, we can arrange to have a family meeting in our offices (assuming we are your lawyers, of course).

The primary reason to share copies of your will and trust: to give your family a chance to confirm that you really intended what you wrote. But there’s an important secondary reason, too: you should let people know what responsibilities they will have.

Sharing copies of your powers of attorney

Even if you are uncomfortable sharing your will and/or trust with your family, we think you should hand out copies of your powers of attorney. Why? Because those documents identify the person who will have to act, possibly on very short notice, if you are injured or sick.

We also think you should make clear to family members who have NOT been named as your agent. They might reasonably assume that they need to take action, and they might step on your actual agent’s authority. Besides, you don’t want your family squabbling about who should be in charge at the time of an emergency. Better to clear up any confusion well in advance.

It’s also important to let the backup or alternate agent(s) know they are in the list. If your first chosen agent is not available, there may not be time to hunt down the documents and figure out who will need to make decisions.

Some other thoughts about sharing copies of your will and trust

There’s another reason to share information. Suppose that one of your children would rather have any inheritance go to their children. Should it be outright, or in trust? How would their surviving spouse be treated? They don’t get to dictate what you do, of course, but they might have legitimate preferences that you would like to honor. These topics don’t tend to come up over Thanksgiving dinner on their own. You — and they — may need an opportunity to engage in the discussion. Handing out copies might give that opportunity.

It’s also critically important that at least some of your family knows where to find the original documents. Planning on keeping them in that top left desk drawer? Great — but maybe put a copy in your safety deposit box with a note saying “look in the top left desk drawer” just in case someone gets to the bank before looking in your study. When you hand out copies, tell the recipients where to find the originals.

Our most important advice, though: don’t let these questions slow you down. You need to actually complete your estate planning — and then you can address what to do with copies of your will and trust.


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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

Famous people's wills

Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.