Midyear is a great time to get your financial records organized. Not having an efficient system in place could prove challenging if you have an emergency situation that requires you to quickly put your hands on an important document.
Making Your List
Emergencies aren’t the only reason you should be taking time out to organize your records. There are all kinds of reasons why you might need to access your important documents. For example, you may need to be able to access relevant personal records if you’re ever audited or are a victim of identity theft. You may need to locate various documents if your home is damaged in a fire. Or you may need proof of ownership to cash in investments or claim insurance benefits. Being organized will help you spend more time attending to the matter at hand and less time searching for your backup materials.
First, you’ll want to make a list of important records such as any items related to:
- Bank and investment accounts
- Real estate and homeownership
- Insurance policies
- Credit card accounts
- Health care benefits and medical history, and
- Marriage and your estate.
Grouping the items into broad categories like these will make them easier to file and find later.
Establish Your Approach
Once you have your list assembled, start organizing and storing your records. To streamline the process:
- Create a central filing system. The ideal storage medium for personal documents is a fire-, water- and impact-resistant security cabinet or safe. Create a master list of the cabinet’s contents and provide a copy of the key to your executor or a trusted family member.
- Designate a second storage location. Maintain a duplicate set of the records in another location, such as a bank safety deposit box, and provide access to a trusted individual (preferably not the same individual with access to the original documents). Consider keeping originals of your important legal documents, such as your will, with your attorney.
- Back up records electronically. It also makes sense to store copies of records, electronically. Simply scan your documents and save them to a trustworthy external storage device. If opting for a cloud-based backup system, choose your provider carefully to ensure its security measures are as stringent as possible.
Create an Emergency Checklist
Having an emergency checklist of important personal records comes in particularly handy in the event you need to evacuate your home. In a crisis, you may only be able to take with you what you can easily carry. Store the bare essentials in a portable container. Include these items:
- Driver’s license, passport, and Social Security card
- Credit cards
- Vital medical condition and medication information
- Health insurance cards, and
- Emergency family and physician contacts.
Also set up an “In Case of Emergency” (ICE) directory in your cell phone. In your phone directory, simply type in “ICE” before each contact (ICE-1 Jane Smith, ICE-2 Dr. John Smith, etc.). Also consider storing and carrying electronic copies of key personal records on a USB flash drive.
Make organizing your records an annual ritual and not just a one-time event. Be sure to add any new documents you need to keep track of to the system the minute you receive them.
If you need help identifying the specific documents pertinent to your situation and how to best organize them, contact your Untracht Early advisor.