How to Store Important Documents and Keep Them Safe

30th May 2018

How to Store Important Documents and Keep Them Safe

Losing or misplacing legal documents could ruin your business and brand image. Proper organization can go a long way toward your law firm success. Here is how to store important documents and keep them safe at home or in the office.

Is your home or work space a flurry of papers?

Do you have trouble knowing what important papers to keep and which to throw away?

Are you having trouble finding what you need because you have so many papers in so many places?

Are you wondering how to store important documents to keep them safe?

Fear not! This article will help you fight the overwhelming tide of papers in your life by teaching you how to sort them and how to protect them.

Organize Documents

Your first step in organizing important documents is to sort them. Make a pile of items that should be locked up, long-term storage items, and emergency kit items.

As you're sorting, you'll probably come across many documents that you don't need or want anymore. This list details how long you should keep your documents:

  • Tax returns and related documents- 7 years, in case of an audit
  • Investment records- 7 years after you've closed the accounts
  • Bank statements- 1 month, until you verify activity
  • Retirement plan statements- 1 year, until your tax return
  • Credit card statements- Don't keep
  • Paycheck stubs- 1 year, until you get your W2
  • Bills- 1 year, until you get your tax return
  • W2s- Until you claim social security

Most of these important papers you just have to keep long enough that you can prove things to businesses or the government. Once you've checked things like your bank statement and credit card statements for accuracy though, you can get rid of them.

Make sure if they have any personal information that they are shredded. You don't want someone stealing your identity after digging through your trash bin.

Now that your documents are sorted, it's time to organize your important papers.

How to Store Important Documents- Emergency Kit

Your emergency kit is where you store items that are difficult or impossible to replace. This is not a spot for sentimental goods.

It's important to keep these items all in one place for two reasons. One, it's easier to find them. Two, you can grab them all at once in an emergency.

Your emergency kit should include:

  • Marriage Licenses
  • Birth Certificates
  • Social Security Cards
  • Wills
  • Passports
  • Copies of Prescriptions
  • Credit Card Numbers
  • Bank Account Numbers
  • Investment Certificates
  • Copy of Driver's License
  • Copy of Green Card or Citizenship Papers
  • Emergency Contacts
  • List of all Household Goods
  • Warranty Information

Think of this box as all you will be able to grab when a fire breaks out. Anything that you have to have when your phone, computer, file cabinets, and wallet are destroyed should be in this box.

Most of these documents are papers that you had to get from someone else (birth certificate, marriage license, etc.). You should also scan these types of documents and have the electronic copy on a disc. Give this disc to an attorney or a trusted family member outside of your home.

Never email these electronic files! That's a great way to have your information stolen.

Remember, this method only works if you return everything you borrow. Don't pull out your passports and then leave them in your purse or desk. Be conscientious and put things back.

How to Store Important Documents - Locked File Cabinet

This is where you will keep important papers that you wouldn't need to save in an emergency, but you should keep on hand. We suggest locking this cabinet because of the sensitive information many of your documents will have.

In your file cabinet, you should have several hanging file folders. Inside each hanging file, you can have a few classification files to help you separate within your categories.

Each hanging file folder should have a label:

  • School- Standardized test results, acceptance letters, report cards
  • Work- Paystubs, write-ups, commendations, retirement information
  • Taxes- Extensions, W2s, returns
  • Credit Cards- Account numbers, problem statements, applications
  • Banks- Account numbers, statements, mortgages
  • Medical- Visit summaries, healthcare information, insurance statements
  • Auto- Vehicle title, maintenance reports
  • Legal- Letters from your attorney, lawsuit information, divorce proceedings
  • Bills- All your bills and receipts for payment
  • Miscellaneous- Anything else you have lying around that should be locked up

You may need a few more categories, but those should be the basics. You don't want to overwhelm your file cabinet, but the basic principle is the more folders you have, the easier you can find something.

If you have the time, you can always scan these documents and keep them electronically. This clears up room in your house, and electronic files are easy to keep organized. The downside is obviously the time it takes you to scan each and every important paper.

How to Store Important Documents- Long-Term Storage

Now let's talk about those documents that don't seem important but are needed as soon as you throw them out. These are the papers that you want to keep for awhile but don't have to be passed down to your children.

These important papers are often receipts, instruction manuals, Christmas cards, or even business cards. Think of these documents as papers you're not ready to throw away yet, but that you don't plan on keeping forever.

If you have room in your file cabinet, you might consider adding extra folders for these items. If not, this is where creative storage ideas come in.

Expandable files are your friends. These are great for instruction manuals or full-size documents that you want to keep safe and dry. A rubber band around the outside will keep everything contained and safe.

Receipts can be pesky because of their size and their increasing number! Consider taping a file folder with only an open top on your wall. Then you can just drop the receipts in as you get back from the store. If you have expenses that your company will reimburse, have two folders one for personal and the other to turn in to work.

A Decluttered Space

Now that you know how to store important documents, let's move onto the rest of your home and workspace. Check out this great article on keeping your office organized.