Organize Your Life
It all starts with knowing what you have, how long to keep it, where to store it, and when to shred it.
Keeping important financial information organized can be helpful when your family needs it and you’re not around. It’s not just about the future. Keeping all your important paperwork organized can also reduce the amount of stress in your life now.
Inventory important documents
Do you have copies or originals of all your important papers? Take some time to sit down and look over everything you have. Begin by sorting into categories.
Make a list of the people who help you with your finances, such as your financial advisor, CPA, attorney, and insurance agents. If anyone needed to contact your advisors on your behalf, a list of those important people and their contact information should make things much easier.
As you organize, you might find some information is missing. You can now start collecting those missing pieces of information or important documents.
Get rid of what you don’t need
Strive to keep a useful set of the most important information.
Some original important documents should never be thrown away. Other information has to be kept only as long as the documents are current. Ask your lawyer, accountant, and Financial Advisor for their recommendations when you update documents.
Find out much more for specific documents in our list, What to Keep, Where to Store, and When to Shred (PDF).
Evaluate storage options
You may need to store papers, valuable items, and computer data. The space you have available in your home might determine your options. If you live in an area prone to flooding, fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, or earthquakes, you might want to consider a storage choice that protects against the greatest risks in the area where you live.
If you choose to buy a safe, remember water causes a lot of damage during fires. Make sure the safe is designed to protect from both fire and water damage. A small container that fits inside will make it easier to remove everything in a hurry if you have to.
Some people rent safe deposit boxes for important papers. Look at the terms of the contract with the bank and understand how your family could access the box in your absence.
Some experts advise you keep documents such as wills, trusts, or powers of attorney documents in an emergency kit at home rather than in a safe deposit box. In many states, the bank may be required to seal a safe deposit box temporarily if the renter dies, which would delay the time when survivors can retrieve these documents.
Create storage for all your records
Talk with your lawyer, accountant, and Financial Advisor about the options they suggest for your situation. You will probably use a combination of storage options.
Once you decide how to store everything and set up your filing system, schedule a time to check it annually to see what can be purged and add any new documents. Tax time is often handy, while you are evaluating your information anyway.
Prepare an emergency kit
It’s a good idea to prepare an emergency kit containing documents you’re likely to need to if a natural disaster forces you from your home. Records to consider putting in your kit include:
- Birth, death, and marriage certificates
- Adoption papers
- Photos or videos of possessions
- Military records
- Social Security cards
- Mortgage/property deeds
- Car titles
- Insurance policies (life, health, disability, long-term care, auto, homeowners, renters, etc.)
Your kit might also include:
- List of emergency contacts, including family members and your Financial Advisor
- Important medical information, including copies of insurance cards, doctors’ names and phone numbers, prescriptions, and immunizations
- List of credit card and debit card numbers, including “800” contact numbers
- Book of blank checks
- Electronic backups of critical information
- Safe deposit box location, list of contents, and key
- Recent pay stubs and employee benefits information
- Retirement account records
- Home improvement records
- Recent tax returns
Your emergency kit should be a fireproof, waterproof, locked box you store at home in a place you can easily access. For an additional layer of security, consider sending copies of vital documents to a trusted family member or friend who lives in a community far enough away it’s unlikely it would also be hit if a large-scale disaster should strike.
You may find it’s more convenient to use pictures on a phone or files on a computer or a thumb drive instead of creating a physical kit if you’re comfortable with that approach. Just make sure family members have any user names or passwords necessary to access the files if you’re not able to do so yourself.
If you need to replace valuable papers, FEMA has a list of resources to help you: Your Official Documents.
- Start organizing your important papers. Tax time is good for this, but any time will work.
- Get rid of what you don’t need, and find a good place to store what you do.
- Prepare an emergency kit containing photocopies or a digital storage record of documents you’re likely to need to help you recover from a disaster.
- Contact your financial advisor and other professionals to update anything that is outdated.
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Wells Fargo Advisors and its affiliates do not provide tax or legal advice. Please consult with your tax and/or legal advisors before taking any action that may have tax and/or legal consequences.