You already know how I feel about writing down passwords (hint: don’t do it), so maybe you can guess where I think you should store your important documents. That’s right: in secure online storage. The best place for copies of your most important documents is in the cloud, behind a password, where you can get to them if you and your house get separated. It happens.
Now you’ll have all your important information, secure and accessible from any device. That’s a good first step, but don’t stop there!
Get Your Records Organized, Then Take a Step Back
Step back and think about this: why are you saving these documents or files in the first place? True, sometimes you just need to reference the information to answer a question or fill out a form. It’s for you. But not always, right? Sometimes, someone acting on your behalf needs the information in these documents to unlock benefits, control assets, govern decisions, or settle your estate. So don’t forget to share access with others who may someday need the information (or who may want to see all the pictures you have squirreled away in there.)
I use Dashlane, a cross-platform password management app, to share passwords with my husband. Does that mean he can access my retirement account or see what I’m buying on Amazon? Nope. I control how and when the sharing happens. For example, I’ve shared a secure note with him that has our kids’ social security numbers and their school ID numbers. He can see it at any time. Conveniently, that means he now has the same information I do. I’m no longer the only one who can fill out school or camp forms!
I’ve also added him as an emergency contact so he can request access through the app in case of an emergency. In the meantime, he can’t access any of my accounts unless I explicitly share the password with him (through Dashlane.) All of the major cloud storage apps (Apple iCloud, Dropbox, Google Drive, and Microsoft OneDrive) also have sharing features.
Leave a Paper Trail
A password manager is a good way to share access to your digital world, but it doesn’t work for everything. What about the paper stuff, like legal documents? Many times, the original signed copy is needed.
Honestly, you can store these records anywhere you feel they’re safe and accessible in case of an emergency (that means not in a bank safe deposit, and that means not in a “secret” location.) For some, that means a filing cabinet. Others may choose a fireproof safe or lockbox. Your attorney may hold a second signed original of key estate planning documents. Any of these options is fine in my opinion. The important thing, again, is thinking of how the documents will be used and who else may need them.
Let’s say you have a Healthcare Power of Attorney document. This piece of paper will do no good if it’s not in the hands of the person you want to make your healthcare decisions. Or a will. You have a will, right? Your executor should have a copy. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about with these documents, start with my estate planning basics article.)
As with the digital files, someone besides you should know where you store your important papers (and in some cases, they should have their own copies.)
You probably know where your most important files are and how your records are organized. But it can be difficult or impossible for someone else (even your partner) to decipher your world if you’re not there to unlock the “doors” and explain everything. It’s especially important to leave some kind of paper trail if you have a large digital footprint and have a lot of automated payments set up. A listing of what’s where can
So when you think about where to store important information, take some time to also think about how to share important information!