Important Documents – Are Yours in a Safe Place?

No one wants to think the worst — that they will be the victim of a house fire, major storm, burst pipe that floods their home, or other disaster. Hopefully, you will never be faced with this type of tragedy, but we recommend that everyone take a few minutes this weekend to gather and develop an emergency plan for their most important family documents, just in case.

Important Concept on File Label.

Where will you store them?

As you develop your emergency documents plan, remember to consider where you will store your documents. A fire-safe box that locks and is stored off the floor (aka on a higher shelf) is going to give you a lot more protection than a shoebox under your bed. These types of secure document boxes range in price and we’ve seen them as low as $25 for a small one, though larger ones and those also rated waterproof can be considerably more. Check the box to see how long it is rated to withstand fire and/or water and make the choice that works best for where you’ll be keeping it. If you need to evacuate for an approaching storm, everything will be in one place to gather.

You might also want to consider storing key originals in a bank safe deposit box. According to a 2018 New York Times article, safe deposit boxes can range from $20-$200 a year depending on size, but you may be able to shop around and get one for free from a local bank you do business with.

It’s important to have a plan for a back-up set of print and electronic documents. Will you keep a set of electronic copies in secure cloud file storage? Or keep the originals at the bank and copies in a firebox at home?

Originals

While more and more official documentation is coming in electronic format, there are still a fair number of items for which you will need the paper originals for certain transactions. Some of these items include:

  • Birth Certificates
  • Car/Boat/RV Titles
  • Death Certificates
  • Home Deeds
  • Immigration and Naturalization Cards
  • Keys (like to your bank safety deposit box, extra car keys, etc.)
  • Marriage Licenses
  • Military ID
  • Paper Savings Bonds or Original Stock Certificates
  • Passports
  • Social Security Cards
  • Wills and Other Estate Documents
  • Anything else on thick watermarked paper and/or with a raised seal/notarized signature.

That’s not to say many of these can’t be replaced, but many will take time and money to replace and if you are recovering from a tragedy — or just need them for a transaction.

Important Reference Numbers and Documents

This includes all the items that are not “originals” but that you will need in case of an emergency. Items such as:

  • Checking and savings account numbers
  • Credit card account numbers
  • Insurance policies (life, disability, car, home, boat, medical, etc.)
  • Immunization records
  • Lists of doctors and prescriptions for each person in the family
  • Location of off-site bank safety deposit boxes
  • Military Discharge Paperwork
  • Mortgage account number(s)
  • Retirement/investment account numbers

For all of these, include the names of the institutions, phone numbers, and URLs for the account/policy issuer if you are not storing an original statement or policy document with that information on it. Also, if you keep other cards not mentioned above in your purse or wallet, make a copy for this file.

Sentimental Items

Often after a tragedy, victims realize they have lost their most sentimental items. Consider keeping the items that have the most meaning to you in in your home fire protection and/or bank safety deposit box. Items such as:

  • A sampling of old family photos and/or their negatives and videos. If you are storing all your family photos digitally on a home computer, consider making a second copy on a thumb drive for your box and/or putting copies in secure cloud storage.
  • Sentimental or heirloom jewelry.
  • Collectable coins.

So take a few moments this weekend, print out this list, and start pulling everything together. Hopefully you will never need it, but it will bring you some peace of mind.

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