How to Best Store Important Documents

June 15, 2021   -   , , ,

Family at the table planning life

Proper preparation provides profound peace of mind, especially when it comes to storing your essential paperwork. However, since many people forget such tasks until it’s too late, we wanted to share trusted guidelines for taking care of important documents. Once you learn what to store and how to store them, you can find what you want when you need it most.

 The 4 Types of Documents You Must Protect

Not all paperwork is created equal. You do not need to keep everything and guard it for multiple years. When it comes to securing crucial documents, you can condense them into four core areas:

  • Personal 
  • Financial 
  • Legal 
  • Property 

 Personal and Family Documents

Personal and family documents consist of essential records, such as medical records, along with various keepsakes that are essential in terms of nostalgia and memory. Many of them don’t even have monetary value, but you also don’t want to lose them in a natural disaster. You also need access to them in case someone in your family passes away. 

Such documents include:

  • Pictures
  • Genealogy records
  • Diplomas
  • Religious records
  • Medical history
  • Medical records
  • Living wills
  • Funeral plans
  • Passwords to locations holding other documents on this list

Legal Documents

Many of these items are personal, but they also hold tremendous legal value in the eyes of the government. You should never get rid of them for any reason. Such items provide critical legal identification in a variety of formats and mediums, including:

  • Birth certificates
  • Social Security cards
  • Adoption papers
  • Marriage licenses
  • Divorce paperwork
  • Passports
  • Green cards, naturalization, citizenship, etc.
  • Military documents
  • Last will and testaments

Financial Documents

Now we’re getting into the weeds, the money-related paperwork that seems to pile up around you when you least expect it. With few exceptions, you should keep most of it for three to seven years. On the one hand, you might be audited by the Internal Revenue Service; on the other hand, you could make a large purchase (like a home) that requires detailed financials. Thus, you should retain material such as:

Always keep handy:

  • Insurance records
  • Retirement accounts
  • Investment portfolios

Keep for three to seven years:

  • Tax returns
  • Paycheck stubs
  • W2s and 1099s
  • Bank records
  • Credit card statements
  • Alimony payments
  • Child support payments

Property Documents

Some experts lump these documents into the “financial” subheading because of the money and potential income aspects of real estate ownership. However, we choose to separate the two because of the nature of these records and how long you have to keep them. In short, if you own vehicles or property of any sort, you need to save and protect all relevant records for as long as it’s yours. You don’t want to misplace such documents if someone dies or have them ruined in a storm, especially paperwork like:

  • Deeds
  • Car Registration
  • Mortgage
  • Lease
  • Insurance policies

 The Top 4 Ways to Store Your Documents

With such an abundance of paperwork that needs protection, it only follows that you should invest in quality systems. The twist is that, instead of choosing just one and adapting it for your needs, we recommend combining the best elements of all four options:

  1. Home filing system
  2. Safe deposit boxes
  3. Home safe
  4. Cloud storage

Files in Your Home

This method is old-school, but it’s also tried and true. You could start with the basic file box or leap immediately to a file cabinet with a lock. What matters is that you create a system that keeps things organized. We recommend the following:

  1. Create a file folder for each of the four categories listed above.
  2. If you have multiple entries for each of the sub-categories, create an accompanying folder.
  3. Keep everything arranged in either alphabetical or chronological order as relevant.
  4. Add folders as needed to assist with organization.
  5. Update documents as needed, including replacing old items with new ones.

This system applies to all of your day-to-day documents. We recommend opting for the file cabinet eventually, especially one that has a secure lock.

A Safe Deposit Box

A classic location for anything you want to keep secure, the safe deposit box provides you the opportunity to store documents and possessions at a place that’s not your house. It guards against theft and natural disaster, especially in terms of materials you don’t need to review or update regularly.

However, you shouldn’t use such boxes for all of your important files and resources. 

  • You can’t access your boxes when the bank is closed.
  • If you pass away, the boxes are locked down until your estate goes through probate.
  • You can’t access them in most emergencies.

Thus, this location is best for valuables and irreplaceable personal possessions, not your critical financial and legal documents.

Your Home Safe

While you don’t have to install a large metal box into the concrete of your home office, you should invest in something fireproof and waterproof. You have many available consumer options for a container that can hold your more precious documents – including identification, deeds, and more – and be hidden around your home. 

What makes one of these smaller options perfect for the average homeowner is that you can simply bring it with you if you have to evacuate due to a natural disaster. That solution is preferable to creating an emergency “go bag” with copies of your important documents while the box stays behind in your house when you leave.

Put It in the Cloud

By “the cloud,” we mean secure online digital storage that you can access anytime and from anywhere using only one password. You have a fleet of options available — some for free and others for a nominal monthly fee — but you should choose what works for you and your storage needs. 

The cloud is a top-tier solution for any information where it’s OK to scan a document and upload the digital file. It’s also excellent as backup record-keeping in general so that you don’t have lots of stray papers floating around your office in search of a home.

Important Document Storage is Personal, Private, and Particular

While no one answer or format works the same for everyone, your documents must be safe and secure. Whatever system you choose, be sure to stick to it and share it with at least one person in your life. We suggest the following guidelines for creating a system that ensures the following:

  1. You know where everything is.
  2. You can access your documents on your terms.
  3. Your documents are safe from theft.
  4. They contain everything needed to rebuild your life in case of a disaster.
  5. Your family knows how to access everything if you become incapacitated.
  6. You have stored and organized what your family needs in case you pass away.

If you’re in the market for a cloud-based solution for your documents, The Postage provides an attractive solution. You’ll enjoy superior bank-level security, helpful organizational tools, and the ability to choose delegates who can take charge of your information when you’re no longer with us.