Dealing with Important Papers


We often have a lot of papers in our homes. Most should end up in the recycle bin, but there are three categories that deserve special attention: medical, financial, and legal. Here are some tips on how to organize and secure these important papers. 

Medical Records may be available on online depending on your providers. This can greatly reduce the need to keep a lot of the documentation in physical form and help make them easier to access even if you are out at an appointment. If you use paper records it may be convenient to develop a binder with divided sections instead of a filing system, so the information is more portable.

Medical records can usually be divided into two main categories: personal medical records and medical insurance information.   
1. Personal Medical Records: This section is your medical history and should include immunizations, physical exams, lab results, dental records, allergies, and a list of your medications. Be sure to keep your medication list up-to-date and have an extra copy available to take with you to any medical appointment. It may be helpful to create a section or file for each member of the family. You could even have a folder for your pet’s medical history.
2. Medical Insurance Information: This section can be divided into categories such as medical, dental, and vision. Policies, necessary forms, and directories should be placed in these folders. An additional category can be added for your settled claims within the last year. Once a year has passed, remember to archive the older claims.

Financial Records should be organized into a filing system designed around your own collection of papers. Much of the paperwork we keep is unnecessary. You can see our Save it or Shred it Guide ( or check with the IRS for proper retention guidelines ( If you do not have a lot of paper for a specific category or seldom refer to certain documents, you might consider having just one folder for the broader category, such as saving all insurance policies in one folder. If you tend to have more papers or need things separated out for easier retrieval, here are some suggestions for dividing it into subcategories and individual folders.

1. Banking/Investments: Create individual files for each bank, investment/brokerage firm, or loan company with whom you do business.
2. Vehicles: Keep all service records and other related documents in a file specific for each car, boat, etc.
3. Insurance: Make files by either the type of insurance (auto, home, life, etc.) or the managing company.
4. Taxes: Store each year’s tax receipts and documents in a separate file. Once you have completed filing your taxes they can be archived and stored in a more remote location.
5. Utilities: Depending on your need for these documents you can choose to either group them all together or you can file them based on the service they provide and let go of them at the end of the year.

Legal Records are documents such as birth, death, adoption, and marriage certificates. Take photos of or make a copy of each before storing, so you have a quick reference of the information if something were to happen to them. You should store the original copies in a fireproof box or a safe deposit box for an increased level of protection. However, do not put items you may unexpectedly need to access in a safe deposit box as it may be difficult to get them out quickly. Items which should remain easily accessible may include your passports, your will, a living will or medical directive, and a power of attorney.

Take some time this month to look at the papers you have. Sort through and decide if they are still needed and if so, where is the best place to keep them.
© 2021 Beth Giles    

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