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Elder Law and Estate Planning Blog - Lancaster, PA

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Protecting your Documents

Your will, your marriage license, insurance policies, medical records.  While you may have all of these documents now, what would happen if your house were to burn down, taking these with you?  Protecting your documents is just as important as having them, and keeping them safe and accessible can be easy.  Protecting them can also make your documents easier to find should you need them in a crunch.  Consider these steps to secure your family's vital documents:

1.  Take Inventory.  Find out what documents you have, documents which might be scattered in boxes in the attic, in filing cabinets, on old computers and new laptops, and other places.  Group these items, making a group of critical items (wills, power of attorneys, car titles, insurance policies, deeds, licenses, etc.) and a group of items you want to archive (old tax returns, brokerage statements, records of when you established retirement accounts, etc.).  This is also a good time to purge old documents you no longer need.

2.  Scan them.  The most practical way to duplicate files is to scan them.  Although it takes a bit more time than photocopying, scans can save you from ever having to make and mail a copy again.  If you can't scan your documents yourself, ask your accountant, lawyer or financial advisor to send you scanned copies of you documents, or hire a scanning service.  Also, check your local library to see if they have a scanner you could use.  You don't need to scan bank statements, as those are generally available online for five years, but you should make a list of accounts, as well as email and other online accounts, and include account numbers, user names and passwords.

3.  Store electronically.  Having backups on your computer won't be much help if your home burns down, destroying your hard drive.  And documents in a safe-deposit box might be inaccessible after a natural disaster or if you need them while traveling.  Instead of having to worry about those alternatives, store your documents "in the cloud" or on a remote server.  Dropbox, Microsoft's SkyDrive, Google's Googel Drive, and Apple's iCloud are all cloud-storage platforms that allow you to access your files anywhere in the world.  You can also share account information with trusted advisors and family members so that they may access the information should you be unable to. 

4.  Store securely.  If you're wary of storing sensitive documents on a cloud storage site, you should know that you are alread doing the same thing when you send emails with attachments.  However, if that doesn't calm your worries, you can enhance security by encrypting your files before downloading or adding a password to individual documents.  There are also cloud-based storage platforms available that will encrypt your documents for you (like VaultWorthy).  These are normally costlier than other cloud-storage platforms.

Want more help deciding what documents to keep and what to trash?  Read our previous blog entry, Keeping a Clean Desk.

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