Can you condense your many essential financial and legal documents into one portable file container? With many records now stored online, this goal is more attainable than ever.
The following ideas can help you pare down the paper documents that represent your financial life. When everything is sorted, clearly labeled and located in one place, you will have created a clear path for yourself and your family members to find your important financial and legal information. (An expanding file with a hinged lid and handle should hold most of the documents mentioned below.) Consider what you would need if you were going to be away for a couple months with no access to your desk, or if your family needed to access information in your absence. No one is immune to the possibility of a lengthy power outage, fire, flood or other emergency situation. With all your key records in one portable container, you can be prepared for the unexpected.
What to Include
In general, what you need is not the detailed documents themselves but enough information to find the details should the need arise. For example, rather than including complete copies of your auto, home and life insurance policies for the past 10 years, what you or your family may need most are policy numbers, contact information for any agents you work with and your insurance-related login IDs. In many cases, just a couple sheets of paper should make it possible to find almost any information you need about your policies.
This list varies for each individual but offers a starting point of documents you should reference, including contact and account information:
• Insurance • Investments • Banking (checking and savings) • Advisors (attorney, wealth advisor, CPA, life and P&C insurance) • Credit cards, including retail cards • Mortgage and other loans • Pension (past and present employers) • Employer and employee benefits information • Utility account numbers • Medicare and Social Security information • Doctors and medications • Vehicle identification numbers, registrations, title numbers or lease information • Real estate holdings • Location of storage lockers, PO boxes and safe deposit boxes • All bills paid electronically each month
Also consider storing the following: • A copy of your current will and/or living trust documents, or clear instructions on whom to contact to obtain them • Power-of-attorney documents • Checkbooks, or a supply of checks
Another useful step is to copy the front and back of every card you keep in your wallet: credit cards, IDs, insurance cards and so on. Having this information stored with the rest of your important documents will be helpful if your wallet is lost or stolen. It is a good idea to update these copies every year.
When sorting out your remaining files, consider two more categories:
Essential but rarely needed: It may be best to use a safe deposit box to hold items that must be retained for the long term, documents such as military discharge papers, divorce or adoption papers, prenuptial agreements, real estate titles and business succession plans.
Less essential: After you sort through all your files, you will still have some documents in your filing cabinet such as home improvement receipts, warranties, past medical records, old tax returns and other items that may be needed at a later time.
Ready and Set to Go
Think of your new filing system as a dynamic resource for you and your family. It should be kept in a secure location known only to you and your family, but still readily accessible, if and when needed. And if you prefer to travel even lighter, several online services provide storage and organization of scanned documents as an alternative to a physical filing system.