With all the news about natural disasters like hurricanes, floods and earthquakes, it makes one think about how to store and protect important records like your birth certificate, will or power of attorney designation.
Keeping originals of these important records in your home may make them easy to reach, but may not be the best method for safekeeping them in the long run. Here are some alternatives to storing important records.
It is okay to keep one copy or original of your important documents on site in your home or office, as long as you choose a protected location for them. Place them into a waterproof, fireproof box or home safe that will protect them and enable them to be retrieved in the case of a fire or other disaster. Documents stored here can include: insurance policies, deeds, living will, will, powers of attorney, and trust documents, along with a list summarizing what you have for open credit cards accounts, other lines of credit, all investment and banking accounts, other assets, and any pre-paid burial arrangements or wishes regarding burial.
Safety Deposit Box
Storing the original documents offsite in a safety deposit box at your banking institution may add an extra layer of protection. Items like your birth certificate, CDs, legal agreements, marriage/divorce/ adoption documents, prepaid burial plots and funeral contracts, property deeds, personal property inventory and documentation, vehicle titles, and stocks and bond certificates should be stored here. Only store your original will there if one or more of your named Executors is a signatory and authorized to access the box without you being present. Otherwise, do not store your original will here, as your safety deposit box will be sealed upon your death; a copy is fine. Documents can also be scanned into a flash drive that is kept in the safety deposit box.
Depending on how likely it is that you will update or make changes to your estate plan within the next 5 years, there are certain documents you should both maintain photocopies of with your attorney and share photocopies of with your first alternate designated agent(s) or executor(s) or trustee(s), along with instructions. You may also want to share photocopies of your financial and medical powers of attorney, financial plan, burial instructions, and perhaps a second safety deposit box key, along with the name and contact information of your attorney and executor. Another approach is to let a trusted friend or family member know where you are keeping these items in your home should you die. At the Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, P.L.L.C., we only retain a photocopy of the final signed documents for our clients, as we disfavor the practice often engaged in by other law firms of keeping clients’ originals in storage with our firm. We strongly believe our clients should be given all originals of their documents to take home after signing.
In the Cloud
Important documents can be scanned and stored on a cloud storage provider such as Amazon Cloud Drive, Google Drive, Dropbox or Microsoft SkyDrive as well as in an external hard drive. In the case of a natural disaster, however, these documents can only be accessed through a powered device; if electricity is lost, they may not be readily accessible, so keep a hard copy on hand as well.
You should always carry information on a device or in a purse/wallet of who to contact in case of emergency. You may be unconscious, or heaven forbid, dead, and unable to give instructions. Items to keep in your purse/wallet include your driver’s license and personal identification cards, health insurance cards, medical information such as your blood type, an organ donor card and any specific medical information, including the contact information for your doctors. However, do not carry your social security card in your wallet, or any document containing your social security number. Photocopy both sides of any documents (including credit cards) kept in your purse or wallet, and keep those copies at home in a safe place. Many folks now store such photos on their mobile devices, stored in the cloud and on services like Dropbox, thus eliminating the need to carry hard paper documents everywhere.
Places Where You Should Not Store Important Documents
On Your Computer
Scanning important documents and storing them in your computer may not be the best alternative, as computers crash and all your valuable information can be lost, unless you use a cloud-based backup service like Carbonite or iCloud. In addition, unless you implement proper and up-to-date security software, computers remain vulnerable to being hacked, giving thieves access to your personal information.
In a Box or File at Home
Simply placing your important papers into a file will not protect them against damage. If you must keep them, consider storing photocopies with another trusted individual at a different location than your home.
No matter where you decide to store your documents, keep a list of where they are and how to access them. Share that list with your designated executor and consider perhaps keeping that information on file with your certified financial planner, CPA, or attorney.
Create Important Documents with Your Estate Attorney
If you have not prepared a will, trust, power of attorney, or other needed estate planning document, please know that it is never too soon or too late to do so. The lawyers at The Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor are here to help. Contact attorneys Patricia Tichenor or Camellia Safi at their convenient Leesburg, Virginia office for an appointment. Disasters, unexpected accidents, and illness can hit us at any time, so don’t wait. Get your affairs in order now.