Managing Household Records: Part II

This is the second, and last part, to the discussion about managing your household records. To view Part I, click here. We began Part I with the following quiz:

How long should you keep a copy of your tax return?
How about credit card bills?
Do you have your birth certificate, your education records, or military service records? How long should you keep them?
How long should you keep your bank statements, insurance policies, and contracts?
How about the records of the kitchen remodeling or new bathroom?

And, of course, the big question: Do you know where all of these are, really where they are? (“up in the attic in a box” doesn’t get credit!)

Well, if you are a bit hazy on some of these questions, then a visit to Part I is in order. If you are up-to-date with records retention then keep on reading. This Tri-Town Apple post, and Part I, will provide you with some, good practical advice offered by the U.S. government, on USA.gov web site, about how to safely store your records..

“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.

Do It So You Understand it
Organize your home filing system (PDF | download Adobe Reader) in a way that you can understand and manage. Choose one member of your household as file manager who will take responsibility for keeping the filing up-to-date and consistent. However, in case of an emergency, everyone in the household needs to be familiar with the system, including children old enough to understand how to use it. Develop and stick to a regular filing and paperwork schedule to avoid having to deal with backlogged papers. A few minutes once or twice a week should be sufficient. 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. If you don’t have the time or the desire to take these steps, or have realized that the task is too much to handle, consider asking a friend or family member to help you focus and give a fresh perspective. Or, you may want to consider hiring a professional organizer to provide structure, solutions, and systems, and help you gain a sense of control.

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.

A Home Safe Is a Possibility

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 or online at a government agency’s website. 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.

Putting Documents in a Safe Deposit Box

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. If you need to obtain documents regarding birth, death, marriage, or divorce, check out Where to Write for Vital Records for guidance. Be wary of companies that offer to sell you copies of official papers; you should check with the appropriate government agency to see if they will provide the same information free or at a lower price. 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
  • Passports
  • Powers of attorney*
  • Social Security cards
  • Stock and bond certificates
  • Wills*

*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.

Grab and Go Kit for Emergencies

Disasters like floods, fires, earthquakes, and tornadoes strike without warning and can affect anyone. Your number one priority in these situations is making sure your family is safe—not finding your most recent copies of insurance policies or bank statements. An easy-to-grab emergency financial records kit (PDF | download Adobe Reader) will make sure you have access to important documents in case the unexpected happens to you.

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.”

End of Part II

To view.Part I, go here.

Let Us Know

Let us know if this kind of information is useful. Leave a comment, we’d love to hear from you.