Although we are trending toward a paperless society, much of your life is probably on paper. Storing paper documents, personal information such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, Social Security cards, and military records, receipts and bills, and other files requires a lot of space and keeping them organized is a major undertaking. Not only that, but paper is easier to misplace, hard to keep secure and accessible at the same time, and could even be a fire hazard. Nevertheless, we all have a paper trail that needs storage.
If you own a business, you may also have paper files that the executor or next owner will need to access to. No matter what you are going to hand down, the major issues are what to keep, how to store and organize it, who to store it with, and who has access to it.
Another consideration is how many places you should keep copies of these documents. A home fire or a broken pipe may destroy your documents. It’s extra work to keep two sets of documents, but it could make a difference if calamity strikes.
The best way to assure security and safety is in a safe or strongbox at home or safety deposit box in a bank (only if someone else has access to it as well). Some may have more documents or paper files than will fit in these locations; you would need to choose the most important ones that will be needed to settle your estate after you pass away. These should include your last will and testament or living trust document with any attachments, other legal documents, real estate records, and contracts. You may also want to keep the original copies of your Healthcare Proxy and Advanced Care Directive/Living Will in the same location.
You may want to keep the rest of your files in a locked file cabinet where they can stay organized, but easily accessible. These are some of the other papers you will need to keep and for how long.
You do not need to keep:
Business files may include:
The bulk of your less important files and documents can probably be stored at home or your place of business, but fires and other disasters are always a hazard. If you own a large, heavy fireproof/waterproof safe secured to the structure of your building you are probably secure keeping the original documents there. If not, you may want to consider other options such as:
Although this is a laborious process, it will save you and everyone else involved much more time in the long term. Essentially, you should set up your own filing system for storing important papers in a filing cabinet, drawer, or expanding file folder.
Once in place, a well- organized filing system only requires a minimal amount of effort to maintain, and the time saved when you need to find this information is enormous.
For example, quickly finding the supporting documents when applying for Medicaid or Veterans Benefits can avoid additional delay in the application process and the resulting delay in receiving benefits.
The first step is to decide on what categories would best fit your paperwork and way of thinking.
Next, label folders or sections with these categories and place them in your chosen filing area.
Categories that are typically used include:
Add as many as you need to suit your needs. You may also want to have copies of your Healthcare Proxy and Advanced Care Directive/Living Will in your files in their own labeled file.
You will need to choose different categories for your business, such as:
Few of us are capable of filing as we go, so your filing system needs a “To Be Filed” section.
This is for information/documents you will not file right away, but don’t want to misplace.
Try to get into a routine for filing those papers in their appropriate file. It might be when you are paying bills or any other interval you choose.
Maintenance also includes cleaning up your records as needed.
As you learned above, not all paperwork needs to be kept forever.