Even in our increasingly digital world, you still have some important legal documents that are probably still in hard copy, and must be properly protected.
If your most important documents are just shoved into a drawer, or a cheap metal filing cabinet, then you are going to have a HUGE headache if something goes badly. Nobody plans on a house fire, flood, or other document destroying calamity.
In this post we will tell you what to store in hard copy, and how to store your most important legal documents so they are there when you need them. We will list several methods, along with the pros & cons.
Documents to Store Safely
First, here is a partial list of important documents that most people should be storing in a highly secure environment:
- Social Security Cards (please tell me it isn’t in your wallet)
- Birth certificates
- Insurance policies
- Financial certificates like bonds or stocks
- Powers of Attorney
- Other important documents you wouldn’t want to lose
Places to Store Your Legal Documents
Here are some places to store your important legal documents, along with the pros & cons of each:
Fire Proof Safe
This is often a great idea – but only if you do it right. You have to get one that is highly rated for an intense fire burning for at least 30 minutes. An hour is even better. A cheapo safe is not going to cut it. House fires can get VERY hot, and last a LONG time – especially if the building collapses into a pile of burning ash and your safe is at the bottom of it.
Also, get a safe that is water proof. Remember that the fire department will be spraying your burning house with water if it is on fire. Ironically, water is often the most destructive force in a house fire.
If you do this, you also have a key location problem. Make sure people know where it is so they can access it if needed. If it is a code, write it down and give it to someone you trust to store for you in the event you (or someone else who doesn’t know or remember the code) needs it.
Safe Deposit Box
The good ole’ bank safe deposit box is always a classic place to store legal documents. It is secure and relatively cheap. The downside is that you have to go to the bank to get the documents. That will likely require time off work because you do it during business hours.
Make sure someone other than you has legal access. What if you die? The bank will lock that thing down until your heirs get a court order. Many people are surprised they cannot get into a bank safe deposit box after the owner dies – even when they have the key! You must be sure the people who can get into it are listed on the form that allows for access. Otherwise, they are not getting in.
Another downside is keeping that key safe and accessible to those who need it. Don’t lose it!
This is a good idea for a backup system. Your documents can be stored on a stand alone hard drive, or even a flash drive that is small and fits anywhere. If you do this, keep your digital copy off site. It won’t do you any good if it burns in the same fire as the originals.
This is all the rage these days, and we think it is smart. Digitize your documents and keep them stored in the cloud. That makes them accessible from another location. It also provides redundancy, with multiple copies existing in several locations.
Most experts say cloud storage is secure. I cannot promise you some hacker won’t get them, but it is unlikely according to experts. And we like the benefit of being sure your most precious legal documents (and your precious photos of loved ones) should be securely stored somewhere they cannot burn.
Filing Cabinets = no
Don’t store your important legal documents in a cheap metal filing cabinet. But you should get one for your more mundane legal documents.
When my father died, I spent a solid day in his home office sorting through financial statements and insurance policies. Thank God he had them organized in files nicely tucked away in filing cabinets.
Imagine that nightmare if your loved ones have to comb through stacks of papers because you suddenly passed away. That is the last thing they need in that situation.
So get your paperwork in some sense of order. And make sure it is a sense of order that would make sense to someone else – not just you.
Conclusion & Next Steps
This is not flashy. It isn’t fun. And it isn’t interesting. But this is important, and you should spend some time making sure you have stored your important legal documents the right way.
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