In This Day & Age, Are Original Documents Even Necessary?

We are in the technological age. Many of us don’t ever think about keeping physical copies of documents that we have in electronic form. For example, do you have a physical photograph of last Christmas with the family? I know I don’t. I have a digital image on my phone (more like my husband’s phone, since he is the photographer) and it is posted to my Facebook page. Do you have copies of important emails? Other than in my business, I never print out emails, so if I ever needed a past email, I would be out of luck if I couldn’t find in on my computer.

Even in the legal sphere, almost all documents filed with Courts nowadays are filed electronically. The Courts don’t want paper anymore. From criminal cases to divorce to lawsuits, court cases are handled electronically for the most part.

This is ALMOST true for Probate, but not quite. I am an estate planning attorney who also represents estates in probate. When I am planning for my clients, I make sure that I have my clients sign DUPLICATE ORIGINALS of every document and then I store one original of each document in my fireproof cabinet. I send the client home with the other set of original documents. I also send to my clients who have computers a digital copy of each document so they can send these to their family members/loved ones if they choose. But I also tell them in a letter the importance of original documents.

Here is a list of documents that MUST BE ORIGINAL to be valid:

Last Will and Testament
Durable Power of Attorney
Amendments to Trusts
Codicils to Wills

There is a reason why these documents must be original: These are the documents that are the most susceptible to fraud and forgery. The Last Will and Testament gives away your assets upon your death. The Durable Power of Attorney allows your agent to manage your assets, including spend or sell your assets, during your lifetime. These are the documents that if someone wanted to swindle you of your money, they would need to do so. So it is important to have original documents.

These documents will not be accepted in digital or copy form; therefore, it is important that you know where your originals are, your loved ones know where they are, and, I believe, for your lawyer to have a duplicate original if needed.

Will we ever do away this need for original documents? Perhaps. But there will need to be some other safeguard to protect against fraud – perhaps digital fingerprinting of documents. Until then, keep your documents safe!