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Protecting your estate plan from California disasters

Here in Los Angeles, most of us know somewhere in the back of our minds that our homes could be wiped out in practically the blink of an eye by an earthquake or wildfire. That's happened to many of our friends, family, colleagues and neighbors over the course of the past decades -- most recently in the fires that swept through parts of the state in November. That's why it's essential to store necessary documents -- including our estate plan -- in a safe place so that they'll survive a disaster, even if we don't.

One of the best ways to do that is to have them saved online in the cloud. This way you can access them even if your own computers have been destroyed or you can't get to them.

Some people prefer to keep their valuable documents in fireproof safes in their home or in strong boxes that they can take with them if they have to evacuate their homes. However, you may not have time to grab anything besides your pets and some clothes if you have to leave in a hurry.

Another option is a safe deposit box in a local bank. However, if you're keeping your estate planning documents there, you need to make sure that your executor knows about it and is able to show documentation to the bank proving that they are legally authorized to access it. That's why any documents giving them that right shouldn't be inside the box. It's fine to keep copies there, but not originals.

Aside from having your estate planning documents in a secure location where they can be accessed if you've passed away or are incapacitated, you should also be sure that your executors and other fiduciaries, such as those you've given power of attorney to, have the passwords necessary to access your accounts. It's important, however, to keep your passwords and account numbers in separate locations.

You should also make sure that these executors and fiduciaries know who to contact if they need to. It's wise to include contact information for your attorney, financial advisor, accountant and insurance agents with your emergency contact list.

Your estate planning attorney may be able to keep all of this information on file so that it's available to your executor. If that's not an option, they can recommend ways to secure this information and make sure that the person or people who need to access it will be able to do so.

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