Documents Lost in Fires

Posted By Gullotta Law Group || 14-Nov-2017

Original legal documents are important. Preserving an original document is always advised as opposed to relying on a copy, which can be either a digital scan or printed reproduction of the original. California has what is known as the Secondary Evidence Rule (California Evidence Code, section 1521), which allows a person to submit, as evidence, a copy or reproduction as evidence, unless 1 of the following 2 applies:

  • “Genuine dispute exists concerning material terms of the writing and justice requires the exclusion” or,
  • “Admission of the secondary evidence would be unfair”

This means that you cannot introduce a copy if there is a genuine dispute the copy is different than the original, or if some other reason makes it unfair. This means anyone who lost their original estate plan can rely on digital or paper copies. Any copy you may have in an alternate location, given to a lender, bank, or otherwise, may be used. Even if you personally don’t have a copy, there may be copies out there. You may even leave a copy with a trust Sonoma probate lawyer.

It is recommended you make a digital copy of your documents and save them online, either in Dropbox or iCloud. Additionally, you can simply email them to yourself, so you can access them from any computer in the world by simply logging into your email. If someone disputes the copies as originals, they may become inadmissible; perhaps by a disinherited heir or a disgruntled family member. We recommend executing a new document which becomes an original, which references the copies and verifies them as original. This essentially makes the copies an original by creating a new original document. Also, notarizing a document is highly advised, in which it is suggested you enlist in the help of a skilled Sonoma probate lawyer to resolve this concern.

Further strength can be given to estate planning documents by drafting the originals with language stating copies may be relied upon if presented. This helps organizations, such as banks or title companies, accept the documents as legally binding. An experienced Sonoma estate planning attorney will do this automatically.

If no copies exist, there is no way to prove what the original terms of the documents were. If the person who originally executed them is still alive and capacitated, creating new documents is the easiest way. If those documents were created in a word processor, it may be as simple as changing the date on the documents, reprinting them, and having them notarized. If the person who originally created the documents is not able to re-execute them, it will be as if they never existed in the first place.

Contact Our Trusted Sonoma Probate Lawyer Today

At Gullotta Law Group, we believe it is essential you make digital and hard copies of your documents, especially if you are wondering how to deal with the loss of important documents in the event of a natural disaster. Our Sonoma probate attorneys believe it is best you place paper copies in a fire proof safe, or give them to a reliable person for safe-keeping. As native Sonomans, we at Gullotta Law Group stand with all Sonomans during these challenging times. #SonomaStrong

If you would like to schedule an initial consultation with a member of our team, don’t hesitate to contact us by calling (707) 506-3880.