We all want our lives to be in order, and when we document the correct bits of information and find the proper storage modality for them, we create order and peace of mind.
Here are some categories of information you’ll need to store and where.
Life Records – Store in Safe Deposit Box
These are records that would be hard to replace if lost, and in some cases, could be harmful if in the wrong hands. For example, it might not be terribly difficult to replace a government ID card such as the social security cards provided in the U.S., but an identity thief would be delighted to have yours.
Here are some examples of life records: Birth, Death, Marriage, Naturalization, Military Service, Adoption, Divorce, and Dissolution records. In the USA, Social Security and Medicare cards.
Other examples include proof of ownership: Titles to house, car, boat, or camper are included here. You also may have proof of authenticity for paintings, works of art, or jewelry. You may have a copyright for a book or other intellectual property, or a patent for something you invented. You also may be in possession of a note (record of money someone else owes you). Your original stocks, bonds, and mutual fund purchase records can be stored here (if not at the broker’s office).
Original signed contracts or copies can also be kept in your safe deposit box, such as pre-nuptial agreements, wills, Living Trusts, insurance policies, lease agreements, and payment schedules for notes or mortgages. If you have financial records stored at the broker’s office or elsewhere, you’ll need a list of everything and where it’s stored.
You also might make a video of all your possessions and store an electronic copy in your safe deposit box along with an itemized list of the purchase price, date of purchase, purchase price, and current value of each item in your video.
Now that almost everything can be stored electronically, it’s very important to keep copies in separate locations. If you have a house fire that destroys your computer, that won’t be so devastating if your backup storage is located in the safe deposit box or a storage unit far from home. And those backup storages should be changed out on a fairly frequent basis to minimize loss.
Note that you’ll get two keys to the safe deposit box, so give one copy to a trusted person who doesn’t live with you. In case of your incapacity, a house fire, or a natural disaster, the other key won’t be destroyed and the holder of that copy will be able to access your records and take care of things for you.
Active Records – Store at Home
You have some records that are in use or may be in use at any given time. These include unpaid bills, resumes, recommendation letters, insurance policies, transcripts and diplomas, an inventory of everything in your safe deposit box, your bank books, a list of all your bank accounts and holdings, your business records if you work from home, and contact information of a person who can step in for you if you’re incapacitated. You’ll also want your burial instructions, warrantees, and guarantees in your active records.
Inactive Records – Store at Home
This is where you’ll store paid bills, cancelled cheques, past tax returns, past employment records, and family health records that may help you if you find yourself with a genetic condition.
Some of these items have been listed under two categories. That means that they could be stored in either location, or that you might consider taking a photocopy of at least the most important pages of those documents and storing them in two places.
Make sure and go through all your records at least once a year and possibly twice, mainly so you can find everything you need instantly and also so you can toss out or shred items you no longer need. Experts recommend January as a good time, since that’s the time you’re going to gather your tax information.