Organizing Your Family Papers and Financial Records for the New Year

Where Are Your Important Family Papers?

Every family has records such as birth certificates and insurance policies they must store. Have you ever worried that you would not find a lost record?

Record keeping may not be fun. However, the time spent putting family records in order, and keeping them up-to-date, is very important.

If your records are in order you can:

  • prove a bill has been paid.
  • save time and stress by not having to search for papers.
  • show legal proof of events (marriage, birth, divorce, custody, death).
  • prove ownership (purchase or sale of items or services).
  • correct errors on bank statements and/or credit card bills.
  • prove claims to insurance, Social Security, or veterans' benefits.

Family Records are Always Changing

Family records may soon be out of date. Life has many events, stages and changes. Each change brings the need to add, remove, or update family records. If the records are in order, changes are easy to make.

One way to stay organized and up-to-date is to set aside an annual review day. On this day, both spouses, or you and a trusted friend, can review the records. Many people find New Year's Day, a birthday, or an anniversary is a good time for this annual review.

Some Tips

Each person and family has special needs. So, you will want to develop your own record keeping system. Whatever system you choose, make sure that it:

  • is easy for you to keep, use, and update.

  • would be easy for family members, or a trusted friend or relative, to use if needed.

  • lists names, addresses, and telephone numbers of persons who know facts about you and would be helpful in time of emergency.

  • lists real estate and personal property held in your name, or held jointly with others.

  • lists a central spot where some records and papers are kept. This can be a file or notebook, known to all family members. It should also tell where other records are kept.

Where to Keep Important Papers

Most of your financial records can be kept at home. These are records you need often and those you may need at a future date. However, to protect them against possible fire or water damage, store them in an insulated steel box or in a fire-resistant file cabinet. The box or file drawer should lock to ensure privacy. Be sure that more than one person knows where the key is kept.

Other good places to store papers are in a cardboard box with a lid, or in a desk file drawer. If you do not have space for a filing cabinet, you can buy folders with several compartments.

Some papers are not used often and are hard to replace. They should be kept in a safe deposit box. These records include: military discharge papers, original copies of birth, marriage, and death certificates, adoption, divorce and child custody papers, and the deed to your house. Others, such as your will and life insurance policies, should be kept at home.

Make a New Year's resolution to "get organized" in 1998. Then keep your resolution!

Prepared by Barbara Dahl, Extension Educator, Consumer and Family Economics.

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