When my husband and I first moved to Indiana, it took us more than one trip to the DMV to get our driver’s licenses transferred to our new state. Indiana required several documents — like my birth certificate, our marriage license, proof of residency, etc — that we had a little trouble tracking down after a major move. In fact, I had to contact the Ohio Probate Court for another copy of our marriage license and to this day, I still haven’t found the original.
This is a common situation among harried re-locators, as well as anyone who has ever had trouble taming the paperwork beast. It doesn’t have to be that way — and in fact, making certain that you have all of your important documents stored either in a home safe or a bank safe deposit box will eliminate stress when you need to access those documents. The question is, where should your important papers be stored? Here is a breakdown of what should be placed in a safety deposit box and what belongs in your home safe:
Safe Deposit Box
A good rule of thumb is that you should put anything in your safety deposit box that you would have difficulty replacing. This includes birth, marriage, and death certificates, adoption papers, divorce decrees, citizenship records, military records, deeds, titles, wills, and stock and bond certificates.
Many individuals do not have a safety deposit box for these items, but it is a great idea to open one. The yearly rent at the local branch of your bank is not particularly expensive, and it ensures that your important papers are protected in case of fire, flood, or burglary at your home.
One thing to keep in mind, however, is that your family should know how to find these papers in the event of your death or incapacitation. For example, if your heirs do not know which lawyer you used to draw up your will, and your only copy of the will is in your safety deposit box, there could be a legal delay in accessing that copy, making the situation more difficult for your family. This is why every family needs a home safe in addition to a safety deposit box.
If you put nothing else in your home safe, make sure that you place information about where to find and access your safety deposit box, as well as detailed information regarding whom you use for wills, investments, banking, and insurance. Being able to access this information easily will be a great gift to your family if the worst happens.
Your home safe is also a good place for records that you might need to access more often than those you store at the bank. This includes your social security card and passport, tax information, insurance policies, health records, education records, loan information, employment records, and bank statements. It is also a good idea to keep a photocopy of your driver’s license in this safe. If you lose your wallet, having a photocopy of your license will be better than nothing while you are working to replace your ID.
Also, it’s generally a good idea to keep a third copy of your will (in addition to the one at your lawyer’s office and the one at the bank) in your home safe. This will ensure that all the necessary information is available to your family.
Your home safe should be fireproof and always kept locked and in an out-of-the-way location in your home. If you should be burglarized, you do not want your safe to pose a temptation for a potential identity thief.
The Bottom Line
No matter how difficult it may be for you to get a handle on your paperwork, do yourself a favor and secure your most important documents at your bank or in your home safe. Taking the time to organize this may be one of the best decisions you ever make.