In spite of living in the digital age, certain paper documents are still important to keep. Even if you create digital images of documents, for some legal documents and other rare or irreplaceable documents, the originals must be protected from theft and damage.
High Priority Documents
There are some legal documents which can be replaced if necessary, but still should be carefully protected to avoid the long and possibly difficult process of obtaining replacements of the originals. The following original personal documents should be on your list:
- Birth certificates
- Property abstracts and title deeds
- Marriage license
- Vehicle titles
- Tax returns
- Certificates of authenticity
For a more extensive list of documents recommended for safe guarding, the FDIC website has a great checklist.
Protecting Against Damage and Theft
You have the option of storing your documents at your home or off-site, such as in a safety deposit box. Which documents to store at home and which ones to keep in a bank deposit box basically comes down to your need for access to those documents and the level of security required for your peace of mind.
Bank Deposit Box
If theft is a concern, there is probably no safer place for important document storage than a safety deposit box at a bank. Only the person who has rented the box and who has the box key has access to the contents. The safety deposit boxes are further secured within the bank’s vault and security system. The negative aspects of using this type of storage is the limited hours available for access and the fact that an individual’s safety deposit box cannot be accessed by anyone else should the renter of the box die. To avoid a delay in access to vital records secured in a safety deposit box in the event of your death, be certain to have a joint signer on record with your bank.
If you want to have 24 hour access to your documents, storing them at home is the best option. To protect the documents from theft, they should be securely stored in a safe that is difficult for a thief to remove from your home. This means a safe that is very heavy and/or strongly secured to the building itself. There are many smaller home safes that would protect your documents from damage in the event of a fire, but could be easily carried out of the home by a burglar. Keep this in mind as you make your selection of a home safe.
During a Move
Although you may trust the majority of your personal and household items to your moving company, important documents are a different matter. Lior Rachmany, CEO of Dumbo Moving + Storage, a top Brooklyn-based moving company which services the greater NYC region, gives this advice. “Plan to care for your valuables and vital documents yourself,” he says. “If the items are irreplaceable (family heirlooms) or complicated to replace (passports and birth certificates), carry them with you.”
Security, damage protection and accessibility are the three items to consider in making your decisions as to where your most important documents are stored.
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