Even in the digital age, our lives are filled with papers. We are constantly forced to manage an avalanche of receipts, junk mail, bills, invoices, flyers, insurance cards, insurance policies, etc., etc. Just keeping track of all of the paperwork can be a full-time job. However, there are a few essential documents that you should have on hand, ready to access at any time. They include:
1. Your Will. You should always maintain the original copy of your will in your home.
2. Your Financial Power of Attorney. As a part of your estate planning, it is essential that you have a financial power of attorney. The will is helpful should you die, but provides no help at all should you become disabled and unable to handle your affairs. The power of attorney helps to mitigate this problem. Keep it in the same place as your will.
3. Your Health Care Power of Attorney. A financial power of attorney enables someone you trust to take care of your financial affairs in your absence. A health care power of attorney allows someone to take care of your healthcare decisions. Keep it close by.
4. Your Living Will. Not all estate plans include living wills, but if you have one, it should always be kept close by.
5. Certified Birth Certificates for the Family. Sometimes needed as proof of identity, you always need to have certified birth certificates on hand for you, as well as any other members of your household.
6. Your Marriage Certificate. Like the birth certificate, your marriage certificate can sometimes be needed as proof of identity or relationship.
7. Certificates of Title to Your Vehicles. These are needed if you ever sell the cars.
8. Proof of Insurance for Your Vehicles. It is best to keep one copy in your car and another in a safe location in your home.
9. Tax Returns. It is best to maintain your tax returns for at least four years.
10. Lease and/or Deed to Your Home. If you lease, you need a copy of your lease handy. If you own your home, keep a copy of the deed nearby.
These documents should be stored in a firebox that is located in your home and locked securely. Close family members should know where to find both the firebox and a key in the event of an emergency. I do not recommend a safe deposit box in most situations. Those can sometimes be difficult to access on nights and weekends, or after the owner has passed away.
Do all of them need to be originals? For the most part, yes. However, it is okay if the last three items are not originals.
I also recommend that you keep digital copies of all of these documents in a secure location - either on a flash drive or on a secure/encrypted cloud service such as Dropbox or Box. If you do that, make sure you have enabled two-factor authentication for your cloud service, and that you use a strong password.