Paper and stuff…it’s everywhere! Even now, when everything is digital, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with paper. There is nothing more frustrating that trying to find an important document quickly, and not even knowing where to look.
When should you start organizing your papers?
Now! This is the best time to get your papers in order, whether you are 25 or 95; single or newlywed; divorced or widowed. In fact the sooner you get your important documents organized, the easier it will be to maintain for the rest of your life. Don’t wait until you don’t have anything else to do, because that will never happen!
What classifies as a vital document?
Your important documents can be classified into different topics. Here are some examples of each:
- Personal Information – which are things like your birth certificate, marriage certificate, social security card and passport.
- Security Information – any login and password information, safe deposit box location and key, any data backup, frequent traveler account numbers.
- Asset Information – Deeds to all property including investment or vacation homes, titles to any vehicles, any rental agreements, and inventory of valuables.
- Financial Information – Bank statements, investments, pension plans, and loans due to you.
- Debt Information – Any car loans, mortgages, personal loans, insurance payments, education, rent, credit cards; anything that you make payments towards.
- Insurance Information – Health, vehicle, homeowners or renters policy, life insurance.
- End of life information – This includes your will, health directives and power of attorney; and also think about what information you can provide to make it easier for your family when you are gone. It’s important to make sure that your survivors are aware of any prepaid funeral arrangement, or special requests. Leaving letters for your loved ones is an amazing gift that you can give them.
Decide on a realistic timeline and schedule to work on this project and an ideal completion date. Write this schedule in your planner and stick to it.
Decide to ask for help in completing this project from a family member, friend or professional organizer, if needed.
Decide what documents you already have and which ones you need to look for, or if you need to request missing documents from appropriate state, government agencies and companies.
Purchase a plastic, portable hanging file box with a removable lid (cardboard boxes do not hold up), available at most office supply stores or online; letter size hanging file folders; and letter size interior folders.
Purchase two external flash drives to store your digital files.
You can also keep your documents in a binder with plastic sleeves, and use ready-made forms that you can fill out with all your information. A workbook, like this one that I created, will help keep you on track!
Gather and purge
Begin gathering all documents. Place each document in a labeled interior folder and place in the appropriate hanging file (example: place your car insurance policy in a folder labeled Auto Policy and place in the hanging folder labeled My Insurance.)
Purge/shred any papers that you no longer need to keep as you go along. You’ll be amazed at the amount of paper you no longer need to keep!
Take photos of everything you own. Open drawers, closets, storage areas, etc. Make sure you know where everything is; you may find some things you forgot about!
The best way to know whether you need to keep something or not is to check with the IRS. You can learn more at www.irs.gov, and Publication 583 will give you a concise list of what records to keep and for how long. You also want to make sure you consult your accountant, attorney, financial advisor and/or insurance agent as to the length of time to keep papers that specifically pertain to you and your family.
Fill in all the information you know and what you’ve gathered into a spreadsheet, document or forms.
If there are vital documents that need to be created like your Will, Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy, etc., plan to have these completed by a professional as soon as possible.
Transfer or scan your completed files onto both flash drives.
Keep one in a safe place; give the second one to your attorney, trusted family member or friend.
Review and update all of your information annually.
I hope this has given you some ideas and you are inspired to get your own documents and vital information organized!
This is just a brief overview of how you can simplify and organize your important papers and information. I put together this free guide How to Organize Your Vital Documents that you can download for free and print for your reference while you are organizing.