A major component of preplanning for end-of-life (whether you’re dealing with financial, legal, healthcare, or final disposition decisions) is knowing how to store important documents such as wills, durable powers of attorney, insurance policies, or simple lists of memorial wishes or online accounts.
Knowing what you need to store — and where — is the first part of this integral process. The next part is letting the right people know what documents are located where, and how they can access them at the time of need. If you go through all the motions of preplanning without leaving a trail to these documents, your work could be in vain and your wishes might not be followed, because your loved ones are unaware of the plans you put in place. This short guide provides some basic information on storing these important documents.
Why Should You Look for a Storage Solution for Important Documents?
Storing your important documents — or appropriate copies of them — in a central location helps facilitate many processes when the time comes.
First, it takes a huge burden off your family and friends, who would otherwise have to find and gather all these documents during an already stressful time. That might involve going through all your papers or files looking for the appropriate paperwork or even ordering new copies of paperwork that can’t be found.
Second, getting organized yourself puts you in more control of your end-of-life decisions. You know better than anyone else about your own decisions, assets, and paperwork. Taking some time now to organize these things ensures your loved ones are able to access and execute your personal blueprint for end-of-life matters ranging from how you want to be treated by medical staff to where you want your assets distributed.
What Are Some Documents That Need to Be Saved?
Consider saving any document that may provide instructions and information about your wishes or legally binding directions regarding your decisions. We’ve compiled a list of common documents that should be saved, but you may also add some of your own:
- A will with instructions for the distribution of your assets.
- A power of attorney naming someone as your POA for financial, legal, or healthcare matters in case you are incapacitated.
- Birth certificates.
- Death certificates of other loved ones.
- Insurance documents, including policies for life insurance, health insurance. and property insurance.
- Financial documents, including tax records, business records, or other items that may be useful during estate administration.
- Estate documents other than your will, such as a trust.
- Legal documents, such as marriage or divorce papers.
- Deed to a house, car, or other property.
- Contracts, particularly if they involve debts or income, as these will be helpful in settling the estate.
- Organ donation forms.
- A list of assets, including online assets with appropriate access information (such as logins and passwords).
Understanding Physical Vs. Digital Document Storage
You can choose to store your documents physically, digitally, or both.
Physical Document Storage
Physical storage involves hard copy records. Some people choose to store them in their own home in a filing cabinet, garage, or attic. If you opt to store documents in your own home, consider purchasing a fire- and moisture-proof filing cabinet to protect your documents from the elements. Don’t forget to let your next of kin or other trusted family members or friends know where you keep these documents and how to access them. You might also invest in a specialty case specifically for storing these personal documents.
Other options for hard copy storage include:
- Safety deposit boxes (at a bank, for example)
- A rented storage unit
- At your place of business
- With your attorney
Pros of physical storage: You have the original copies; less risk of information theft; may be easier for individuals who are uncomfortable with technology.
Cons of physical storage: Harder to access; documents may still be lost or damaged.
It is recommended that you always keep more than one copy in a different location.
Digital Document Storage
Digital document storage lets you save an online copy of your documents. Typically, this involves saving an actual digital copy, especially of documents that don’t have to be signed, or saving a scanned copy of the original hard copy document.
You can access both free and paid services to save documents online. Some options to choose from include:
- Dropbox (free up to a certain amount of data)
- Google Drive (free up to a certain amount of data but does require a Google account)
- Microsoft’s OneDrive (free up to a certain amount of data but requires a Microsoft account)
- Everplans (a specialty service specifically for end-of-life planning and the associated documents)
Pros of digital storage: Easy to access for those who are comfortable with technology; less likely to be lost or damaged.
Cons of digital storage: Risk of information theft.
What Are the Consequences of Not Storing Important Documents?
Not storing your important documents — and ensuring at least a few trusted people know how to access them at the time of need — can result in several negative outcomes:
- Without the documents, your wishes may not be followed about end-of-life care, distribution of assets, or even your final resting place or memorial.
- Not storing the documents in an organized fashion can add more burden and stress on loved ones.
- If friends and family can’t find your documents and present them — particularly things like your will — someone may be able to present false or outdated documents that aren’t in keeping with your wishes.
Want to Discover More Tips for Planning Ahead?
To find out more about what you can do to ensure peace of mind in the future and reduce your family’s burden by preplanning or end-of-life decision-making, subscribe to our free Thinking Ahead email series.
Note: Neptune Society is not affiliated with, and doesn’t endorse or recommend, any products in this article. This is intended as a resource to help families. Be sure to speak with a professional regarding digital security or digital estate planning.