Important Family Documents Binder – Why and How You Should Make One

binder

Being in the military you find yourself using a lot of your important personal documents quite often. Before I married Joseph my birth certificate was stashed in a filing cabinet at my Mom’s somewhere and my social security card was kept in the junk drawer at our condo, needless to say I was all over the place but in my defense, I rarely needed any of these documents. Once we began moving around I knew it would be important to have all of our documents in a centralized location where they were not likely to be lost or damaged, especially because the military tends to be a stickler for those things (ya know, national security and all, lol). I created a binder to keep our important documents safe and organized, at first it was just a few documents (passport, birth certificates and social security cards) but as time went on I included more items and separated it into categories (see below). I cannot stress the importance of doing this as a family or even as an individual, and the following is an example of why. About a year ago J’s Mom was in a terrible accident (thankfully she is well now) and while she was incapacitated and unable to verbally communicate with us for quite some time, we were faced with the daunting task of attempting to sort through her personal finances and track down vital information and account numbers which was almost impossible without it being in order or recorded in any way. Granted this was not her fault (who really expects the worst to happen?), most of us know our account numbers and passwords by heart and know exactly where we keep most of our important documents, but God forbid you are incapacitated for any reason, you want it to be easy for someone else to be able to sort through (and make sense) of all of your personal documents.

That being said, even unrelated to cases of emergency, a record of all of your documents will make your own life SO much easier and if a company tells you “you’ll need to bring X, Y and Z when signing up for whatever” you know exactly where everything is! Since J is constantly working and I’ve needed to set up lots of things in his name, this binder has been a life saver and whenever I whip it out to show my power of attorney or birth certificate or what have you, people will always say “WOW, you’re organized!!!” I’ll thank them but be thinking to myself  “dude, you should see my brain.” lol. So here it is, my emergency/important document binder, it will not only help you stay organized but you will  have peace of mind knowing that all of your important documents and information are centralized. Word to the wise, keep this thing locked away as we do, since it contains account numbers and basically all the information that someone would need to COMPLETELY steal your identity (only drawback of this thing, lol), we keep ours in a fireproof box (to which a few select people have the code). I use clear sheet protectors and cheap index divider tabs to separate it into the following categories:

  1. PERSONAL
  • Copies of photo IDs (drivers licenses, work IDs, military IDs etc.)
  • Passports
  • Birth Certificates
  • Social Security Cards
  • Marriage Certificate
  • Health Insurance Cards (or copies of insurance cards)
  • List of Emergency Contacts (optional but we include the numbers of immediate family members, doctor, lawyer etc.)

2. FINANCIAL

  • List of all bank accounts, investments, credit cards and debts including account numbers (or last 4 to be safe).
  • Copy of LES (this is a military document that verifies pay grade and employment on active duty, so it is specific to my situation but you could include some other proof of employment/pay stub)

3. LEGAL

  • Power of Attorney
  • Last Will and Testament
  • Life Insurance Policy (this could also be filed under personal)

4. HOME

  • Deeds
  • Mortgage information (lender name, contact info. and account numbers)
  • Rental Agreements (of current tenants or your own rental agreement if you are the renter, as well as contact info. for tenants/landlord)
  • Home/Renter’s insurance info. (account numbers and policy info./copy of policy)
  • List of Utilities and companies that provide service/account numbers (we have our electric, water, internet and cell phone providers listed)

5. VEHICLE

  • Titles
  • Insurance info. (account numbers and policy info./copy of policy)
  • Lease Agreement (if leased vehicle)
  • Record of Vehicle Repairs/Maintenance (optional)

 

There you have it! Feel free to customize it however you see fit. If you have a lot of children you may consider making a separate “personal” tab for each individual. Some people also like to have a separate binder for each category, but for me this would defeat the purpose of having everything centralized. As you probably know one spouse is usually more in tune to what bills get paid when, what money is where etc. and while J and I feel that we have a pretty good handle on it together, there are still accounts we maintain individually and bills that we pay separately and if anything were to happen to either of us we both agree that the last thing we would want is the other spending his/her time trying to sort out our finances and legal mumbo-jumbo during our time of family crisis. This binder ensures that everything will move along seamlessly in the event of an unfortunate situation and keeps you from wondering “yea, where did I put that passport, I think I remember seeing it in 2009 sometime …” lol. One last quick note, this is also great to do if you live in an area where you have a higher than normal likelihood of having to evacuate your home on short notice (hurricanes, tornadoes etc.).

 

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