Keeping our important personal and financial documents safe is crucial because we need them in managing our finances, applying for credit, buying and selling property, traveling internationally, supporting insurance claims, and for numerous other purposes. While most people understand the necessity of keeping these types of documents safe, the reality is that relatively few ever actually store them in a secure location where they can be accessed in an emergency situation. For most people these documents are kept in one or more boxes, files, or drawers where they could be lost or destroyed in a fire, flood, storm, or burglary. Following are a few common sense steps you can take to enhance the security of your most vital personal and financial information.
1. Keep your original documents in a safe, secure location. If you prefer to keep them in your home, then invest in a waterproof, fire-resistant safe that can be bolted to the floor. This will protect your documents in case of a severe storm, flood, or fire, and it will also make it difficult for thieves to access them. Alternatively, you could store your originals in a safe deposit box at your bank, or even better yet, at an out-of-town branch of your bank.
2. Make copies of all of your most important records, including wills, passports, insurance policies, car titles, tax documents, and so on. In addition, you should record the account numbers for all of your social security, bank accounts, charge cards, and investment accounts. If your original copies of your documents are stored in a safe deposit box, then keep your duplicate copies in a safe or lockbox at home. On the other hand, if you are storing your original copies at home, then you should keep your duplicate copies in a safe deposit box at a bank.
3. Back up all of your most important computer files, and do so on a regular basis. I would also recommend that you include scanned copies of all of the important legal documents that you have stored in your safe and/or in a safe deposit box. You can back your files up to a flash drive or external hard drive or, even better, to an online data backup service.
4. Take a photographic and/or video inventory of your most significant valuables. Store this photo/video inventory–along with the receipts, invoices, and warranties for your most expensive valuables–in your safe or safe deposit box with your other important original documents. You should also create a duplicate of your photo or video inventory on your computer and then save it to a flash drive, an external hard drive, or an online data backup service.
5. Should you desire an even higher level of security, you may choose to also keep one set of documents with a trusted friend or family member who lives at least 100 miles away from your location. In that way, if your local area is hit with a large natural disaster or other serious emergency situation, you would still have access any of your important documents that you may require.
Of course, not everyone will feel the need to institute all of the above security measures for their important personal and financial documents. Each individual will have to decide for him/herself which and how many of the above steps they will choose to implement in order to safeguard their information. By taking some action, though, you can gain some peace of mind in knowing that your information is safe if an unexpected emergency occurs.
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