In the previous post about managing household records, we talked about what files you should actively keep, what files you should keep in storage, and what files you can discard. Today we will discuss how to create your filing system so that you know where all of your important documents are located.
Create Your Filing System
Generally, your home file should include all the items you refer to frequently including bills, warranties, bank statements, etc. You’ll also need a secondary storage location for your more important, difficult to replace papers, such as passports, vehicle titles, birth certificates, etc. A fireproof/waterproof safe may be one possibility, but it’s better to store those records in a location away from home, such as a bank safe deposit box.
Consider scanning and storing some documents electronically since it’s best to save your important documents and files in a way that can easily be carried away and accessed later. Scanning will give you easy access to your documents and allow you to transfer them via e-mail and easily make back-up copies. Investing in an external hard drive for your computer and regularly backing up important documents will allow you to carry away the external hard drive at a moment’s notice. Online backup systems are very cost effective and convenient way to automatically backup all of your important files and have them available from anywhere in online vault.
Safe Deposit Box
Once you have organized your documents, you’ll want to consider getting an off-site storage location, such as a safe deposit box. Use the safe deposit box for originals, but remember, you’ll still need copies at home if something tragic should happen to you and your safe deposit box gets sealed. Always seal documents stored in a safe deposit box in airtight waterproof containers (like Ziploc bags) to ensure they don’t get damaged. If you’d rather keep your records at home, then get a fireproof/waterproof safe. A good rule of thumb is: Put documents in the box if you can’t easily replace them or if you don’t know what might happen if you don’t have them.
If applicable, you should have official or certified copies of documents for your safe deposit box. “Official” means an original copy with all required signatures. Select documents, such as birth certificates, must also be certified or notarized to be considered valid. You can get most government records for free or at low cost from a government office. If you are unsure whether you need a certified copy, or want more information about which local government office can give you originals of these documents, contact your local consumer protection office. Consult your attorney before you put an original copy of your will in a safe deposit box—some states don’t permit access after a person dies.
Consider keeping copies of the following documents in a safe deposit box or locked in a fireproof/waterproof safe in your home:
- Adoption papers
- Advance directives*
- Birth and death certificates
- Citizenship papers
- Contracts of importance
- Deeds and property titles
- Household inventory
- Life insurance policies
- Marriage licenses and divorce decrees
- Military discharge papers
- Powers of attorney*
- Social Security cards
- Stock and bond certificates
*Since the safe deposit box will be sealed at your death, keep a copy of your will somewhere accessible. The same goes for the advance directive and powers of attorney since you may not be able to give others access to the safe deposit box.
What Documents Should You Have Ready?
Store the documents in an accordion file and keep it in your emergency supply kit so that everything you need is together. Items you should put in the kit include originals or copies of:
- Birth and marriage certificates, divorce decrees
- Social Security cards of household members
- Driver’s license and other wallet cards
- Will and/or trust documents; powers of attorney
- Recent income tax return
- Passports and/or other identity documents
- Military discharge papers
- A list of your prescriptions: name of medication, dosage, pharmacy
Other important papers include:
- Contacts for family members, employer, financial advisors, attorney, accountant, and banker
- Insurance policy information
- Bank, credit union, and credit card account list
- Summary of personal, financial, property, and other vital information
Other items to consider including:
- Safe deposit box keys and/or safe combination
- Computer user names and passwords; CD with relevant personal, financial, legal files
- Some emergency cash
Remember that these documents contain personal information like social security numbers and bank account information that could be used against you if it fell into the wrong hands. Be sure your emergency financial records kit is stored in a secure location in your home so it is easy for you to carry away in a disaster not for a thief to carry away in a robbery.
While gathering and sorting all of this paperwork may seem like a great deal of work, consider working on your project gradually over time. Also, taking care of this work now, will save you a tremendous amount of time and money if catastrophe hits.