Organizing and Storing Important Documents for Safekeeping

Acknowledging how tenuous any individual’s grip on life can be, it is crucial to be ready to transfer relevant personal documentation to your executor, and not wait until some emergency, or worse. In response to this sobering realization, I developed a list of important documents to help ensure all my family’s documents are readily accessible in case of need. I call the list “LifeDocs.”

I considered signing up for a subscription service offered by a company, Everplans, to organize and store my family documents on-line in an electronic vault, but decided I am not yet ready to trust our documents to someone else, especially with all the publicity about hackers compromising on-line accounts. However, I am still reading their book, “In Case You Get Hit By A BusHow to Organize Your Life Now For When You Are Not Around Later.

The list of documents that I developed is in Excel format, and is based on lists offered by various financial institutions and estate planning attorneys, and my own experiences. I have used this comprehensive list to develop a personalized, shorter list that is applicable to our family circumstances. As an organizational note, I used different colored file folders for each category, and have placed all folders in a portable file box with handle.

I have divided the documents into seven categories.
A)   General Items
B)   Medical Information
C)   Insurance Documents
D)   Financial, Legal, Bank & Credit Documents
E)   Business Documents
F)   Investment Documents
G)   Documents and Information Needed After Someone Dies

Note the list includes trust documents, so one could argue this list goes “beyond the trust” for estate planning purposes. Also note certain items have an asterisk next to the number, and that means such documents should be stored very securely, such as in its respective folder in a safe, as noted in the footer.  I would encourage each person or family to consider using the list, or some modified version thereof, for organizing their documents.

By way of background, when my father at the age of 85 was diagnosed with terminal cancer with three months to live, I visited my parents in Arizona to help ensure their affairs were in order to make the transition easier on my mother. When I sat down with my parents, and started to go through an early version of this list that I had received from an estate planning attorney, I would ask my Dad for this or that document and watch him wander off to the four corners of their house and car to retrieve the requested document. I doubt my mother would have been able to do even 10% of that retrieval process on her own. So I resolved to make things easier for my family, and this list is one of the outcomes.

Finally, since no one knows how long they will live, and tomorrow is not promised to anyone, if you have not already done so, I recommend you get started on your list sooner than later.

David Broyles,
Guest Blogger