Do you know where all your and your family’s important documents are?
Do you have it all in one place ready to grab and run in case of an emergency?
A big Part of Taming your File monster is in my eyes to have all your important paper documents identified, protected and securely filed.
This becomes even more apparent in the light of some of the natural disasters that have happened just in the past few weeks:
- Wildfires in Western Canada the devastating wild fires that destroyed countless houses and thousands of people had to be evacuated (as of August 26, 2017, 1,116 wildfires had burned 1,020,858 hectares across the province.)
- Flooding in Houston Texas USA the Hurricane Harvey that killed at least 9 people and made thousands homeless.
- Landslide in Bondo, GR, Switzerland the landslide that destroyed 12 farm buildings and covered the highway in debris.
All of us that are not affected by any of these named or other disasters can call ourselves lucky. But besides our help and support we owe to these people, we also owe it to us to review our situation and evaluate whether (or not) we are prepared in case something like this happens to us.
I’ve asked this question before and will ask it again:
- Would you be ready to leave your home at a moments notice in case of a fire or other disaster?
- Do you know where all your and your family’s important paperwork is, do you have it all in one place ready to grab and run?
If not, do you realize what disastrous, stressful and expensive consequences this could have?
When a disaster hits, you have not much time to gather your things, that’s why some people take the weirdest things under stress and leave the important and/or treasured items behind.
So let’s look how we can keep your and your family’s important paperwork safe:
Identifying important documents
What are the important documents anyways?
These are documents that would be very difficult, expensive or very time-consuming to replace. They usually also contain sensitive personal information that could be compromised in the event of a break-in or robbery. In the event, your home was destroyed by fire or flood you’d want these vital documents to remain intact and easy to be accessed.
While it could be different for everybody these are the main documents that need to be protected:
Personal and Family documents:
- Legal documents (birth certificates, marriage license, divorce papers, passports)
- Real estate certificates, property deeds, mortgage certificates
- Automobile titles
- Drivers license
- Current insurance policies
- Medical records
- Health insurance cards
- Living wills
- Power of attorney designation
- Medical and burial instructions
- Beneficiary directions
Pets & livestock
- Vet and health records
- Tatoo or Microchip info
- Photo for identification
- Business Registration Certificate
- Sales Tax Registrations
- Insurance policies
- Client Paperwork
Click here and download a checklist of the important documents
How to protect your important documents (vital)
Step 1: Originals
Your most important paperwork should really be stored off-site in a safety deposit box. Usually, your house bank offers safety deposit boxes in different sizes and the yearly rental fee you pay for them is well worth it.
Three things to make sure:
- Make a master list of all of the vital original documents you place in your safety deposit box
- Keep a copy of all the documents you have in your safety deposit box and place them in your emergency kit
- Make two copies of your Credit Card (front and back) and keep one copy in the off-site safety deposit box and one copy in your emergency kit
Another option is to store them in a fireproof safe you have at home. In my eyes, it’s not as safe as in a safety deposit box because a fireproof safe is only fireproof for so long and depending on its size it could be stolen in a robbery.
Step 2: Paper and digital Copies
Paper Copies of your most important documents, the ones you have in the safety deposit box, go into an emergency kit.
If you have to evacuate your home you don’t have time to gather all these documents. Therefore be prepared and do it now, you will thank yourself if you ever end up having to leave your home in a rush!
Sometimes we hear the advice to consider giving a set of copies of our most important documents to a person of trust for them to keep safe. I personally don’t like the idea too much, you give away the control of it, who says this person really keeps your documents safe? It also could be a burden on this person’s shoulder to keep your documents safe in addition to their own.
I’d rather select a person of trust and let that person know where and how to find the originals and the copies in case of my incapacity or death.
In addition or instead of having paper copies in an emergency kit you could make digital copies and keep them in a in the cloud. There are advantages and disadvantages to this:
The advantage is that you have access to it your digital files from anywhere you are, so if you are not home and something happens to your home you still have your digital copies
The disadvantage is, that you most likely need to make paper copies (i.e. print certain documents) in case of an emergency. But the advantages of this outweigh the disadvantages in my eyes
Sensitive data and especially client information and data, whether it’s stored on your laptop or in the cloud, should be protected by encrypting it. There are services out there that help you do this, one of them is for example VeraCrypt
Step 3: Destroy out of date documents
To do your part and protect yourself from Identity fraud, make sure you invest in a small cross-shredder and shred all outdated originals and all copies with personal information on it.
To make sure your emergency kit is up to date I suggest you go through your originals and copies at least once a year.
Again, this is a small investment compared to what it could cost you to restore your identity after somebody fraudulently used it. You can get a small household shredder for under $100.
So now over to you, Identify your important documents, protect them by putting the originals in a very safe place (preferably a safety deposit box) and create an emergency kit with the copies of your important documents. Set up a reminder in your calendar to go through your important paperwork at least once a year to keep it up to date.