The Importance of Maintaining Digital Copies of Estate Planning Documents


If there is anything the year 2020 has taught us so far, it is that you can never plan enough – and part of responsible planning includes preparation for the unexpected. Our estate planning lawyers help Texans become equipped to handle any catastrophic life events that may take place so that tough choices aren’t left to be made in the moment. Unexpected events bring stress and worry with the added pressure of having to problem solve while coping. Estate planning helps individuals address these future what-ifs. Among the many eye-opening realities the Coronavirus pandemic and recent storms have wrought, the importance of maintaining digital copies of estate planning documents is more apparent now than ever.

What is an Estate Plan?

An estate plan directs what will happen to everything that you own and are responsible for in the event you become incapacitated or die. A comprehensive estate plan addresses the assets or estate of an individual, as well as designates who will make important decisions should the individual become unable to manage his or her affairs, which includes who will serve under a durable or medical power of attorney. An individual’s estate plan will dictate the answers to important decisions regarding guardianship, healthcare decisions, division of assets, and beneficiaries. Without such a plan, vital decisions often cannot be made with the late or incapacitated individual’s wishes in mind, leaving things up to state laws and probate court orders. Additionally, the lack of a well-documented estate plan can force loved ones to endure drawn out legal proceedings with ongoing court intervention. In a pre-Coronavirus reality, many would never have considered the thought of drafting estate planning documents until they were closer to retirement age, nor would many have seen the need for an estate plan review; however, current circumstances and challenges have changed many people’s perspectives.

Undertake an Estate Plan Review

While many people assume an estate plan begins and ends with a will or trust, estate planning documents can be comprised of much more than those items. A variety of circumstances, including the value of an individual’s assets or complexity of their management, may require additional estate planning documents be drafted. Individuals who previously executed only a basic or simple will or trust should enlist the help of a Texas probate attorney to perform an estate plan review in order to ensure all of their wishes are expressed in a legally sound manner. This is the most effective way an individual’s desires with regard to their legacy and hard work will be honored after they are gone.

The manner in which estate planning documents are preserved is just as important as the language they contain. If a loved one is unable to produce estate planning documents in the event of a death or medical emergency, not only is crucial time lost, but the wishes of an individual could be left unmet. If documents are missing, beneficiaries will have to address legal matters associated with the estate while dealing with the emotional toll of the situation they are in. The current global health crisis and recent natural disasters exemplify the reason why individuals must retain digital versions of estate planning documents.

Incapacity and Death Can Strike At Any Time

The Coronavirus quickly showed the world that a healthy individual could be gone in a matter of hours if severely affected by COVID-19. As unfathomable and grim as it sounds, the tragic and unbelievable loss of more than 189,000 Americans so far is proof of the importance of digital estate planning documents. Due to the contagious nature of the virus and the implementation of shelter-in-place orders and social distancing efforts, individuals facing hospitalization due to the coronavirus, and other illnesses that require medical attention, are now treated without their spouses, family, and/or friends by their side.

Without digital copies on hand and ready to send electronically, neither the patient nor their loved one will be able to produce these crucial documents in a timely manner. Additionally, solely keeping physical copies of estate planning documents comes with a heavy risk of loss due to factors such as damage due to weather or age. Often in an emergency, these items can be extremely difficult to locate. Digital versions of all critical health and financial documents help ensure they will neither be destroyed nor compromised, and remain readily available. While having the original documents on hand is always best, if documents are lost or damaged during a flood or hurricane, having a digital copy may be the only way to give effect to someone’s wishes. Finally, documents in digital format can be easily reviewed virtually with an attorney without the need for an in-person meeting, ensuring that the estate plan continues to reflect your wishes while maintaining document security and compliance with public health recommendations for distancing.

Texas Estate Planning Attorneys

While estate planning has long been an effective way to protect loved ones and the fruits of your labor, its necessity has become more readily apparent during the ongoing global health crisis. Individuals should consult with an experienced estate planning attorney to spell out their preferences for future health decisions, asset management and asset transfers should they become ill or pass away unexpectedly. If you have questions about planning for your future, contact one of our Texas estate planning attorneys here at MehaffyWeber today.