Proper copying and storage of important documents is not just smart - it’s essential.
We all have vital documents that should be treated with the utmost care and concern. Marriage licenses, birth certificates, wills, deeds, mortgage papers, insurance information, stock and bond certificates - these are just a few of the essential papers most Americans have on hand, but probably aren’t caring for or storing properly.
According to document service experts at The UPS Store(r), there’s no time like the present to update, copy and store your personal documents. In fact, store franchisee Donna Evans recommends that people make copying important documents a yearly ritual and The UPS Store offers this handy top-ten list of easy tips for preserving valuable documents.
- Keep copies of documents in two separate “safe” places (e.g., safe-deposit box, home fireproof safe or file cabinet, at the office or with an accountant). Make sure to store records in a stable environment away from sunlight, bright lights and water pipes.
- Store the following documents in a safe-deposit box: copies of wills, deeds, titles, licenses, mortgages, stock and bond certificates, employment contracts, prenuptial agreements, adoption papers and naturalization papers. (Please remember that only certified copies of vital records can be used to establish identity. Any other copies can only prove that the document once existed.)
- For records kept at home, use a fireproof safe or file cabinet to store titles to cars, boats or other vehicles, insurance policies, bank statements, W-2 forms, extra copies of wills, income statements, employment benefits and passports.
- Saving all records of home improvements may resolve future disputes.
- Hang on to tax returns (including W-2s) forever, particularly if you own a small business. The IRS has three years from an annual return’s due date to audit for that year. But if the IRS suspects fraud, there is no limit to how far back it can search for evidence.
- Review monthly checking account statements. Once each deposit is confirmed, shred the corresponding deposit slip.
- Hang on to receipts and credit card statements for any appliance under warranty.
- Inventory and video all expensive household items. Store the video in a fireproof safe or safe-deposit box.
- Don’t forget items that have sentimental value. Budget time to copy or scan one-of-a-kind items like cards, letters and photographs.
- Most importantly, draw up a list that details the location of every important record. This list should include the contact information of individuals family members may need to reach regarding specific financial affairs (e.g., accountant, stockbroker, lawyer, financial advisor, insurance agent and bank officer). Keep one copy in a safe-deposit box; give one to an attorney and another to a relative or close friend.
Preparing for a Digital Disaster
Don’t forget computer files and documents when it comes to updating and safely storing your most important personal documents. In today’s digital era, many Americans keep at least a portion of their financial records in computer software programs - not to mention years’ worth of digital photos that may have never even been printed.
Do take time periodically to burn CDs with your digital photos, financial files and any other important documents that aren’t stored elsewhere in printouts. Then, don’t forget to put the CDs with your other important documents in a safe, easily accessible place.
You may also want to program your computer to run regular backups to an external drive, in case of power outages, program errors, viruses or other mishaps that could erase or damage important files.
Preparing for a natural Disaster
While keeping your vital documents organized and stored properly is a must for anyone, for those who live in areas that are more likely to be struck by hurricanes, tornados, wildfires, earthquakes or floods, it’s critical.
A recent survey commissioned by The UPS Store found that 58 percent of those surveyed said that natural disasters have made them more aware of the need to have important documents in order and safely stored. Yet only 21 percent of respondents have started preparing for a natural disaster. Of those who have started preparations, just over half indicated that they have taken steps to copy important documents.
There are a number of resources available to help people decide which documents are the most critical to have available in case of a disaster. The Red Cross provides a list of important family documents at www.redcross.org, while the Federal Emergency Management Agency developed an Emergency Financial First Aid Kit, designed to help people organize their personal information, available at www.ready.gov/america/getakit/checklist.html.
All materials courtesy The UPS Store®, familyfeatures.com