Where’s Your Deed and Other Vital Papers?

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The fires in California
reminded me how important it is to keep copies of all key documents
together, so if you need to get out in a hurry, you can quickly locate and grab
them. They also reminded me of a warning I recently received from the Federal
Citizen Information Center (FCIC).

Yet Another Scam
It seems that there’s a
nationwide scam underway, trying to get people to buy certified copies of their
deeds. The letters cite the FCIC’s useful article, “Managing Household Records,” as a
reason for buying a certified deed. The FCIC wants everyone
to know there’s no need to use a private company to obtain a copy of a deed. You
can easily get one from your local Register of Deeds for free or at a low cost.

Where to Keep What
Ideally, your original deed is best kept in a safe deposit box, along with the
following: birth, marriage, and death certificates, car titles, passports,
mortgage and other loan agreements, insurance policies, a list of credit card
numbers, assorted passwords, codes, and account information, and Social Security cards.

The originals of
health-related documents, such as advance directives, health care proxies, and
burial wishes, don’t belong in a safe deposit box. The people you put in charge
might need the documents before they can get access to the box. Experts
recommend that the person who will be carrying out your wishes should
have the originals, and copies should be in your doctor’s files as well as
given to family and close friends, if you’d like.

As for wills and financial powers of
attorney, they don’t belong in a safe deposit box, either. My attorney has the
original of my will, and my partner, Marc, the person I’ve chosen to be in
charge if I can’t sign for things, has the original of my power of attorney – as
well as all those health papers — buried somewhere in the chaos that is known
as our new home. Ditto for his important papers.

Marc and I can’t really use our
move as an excuse. Our records were just as chaotic before we moved. I am going
to take the fires in California and this blog as a challenge: To get our important
papers where they should be! Want to do likewise?

Looks like a good place to
start is by reading’s "Keeping Track of Secured Places and Passwords," which will help us focus on the
records we ought to organize. Hope you’ll join me!

– Co-author of "Invest in Yourself: Six Secrets to a Rich
Life" and founder of Good Advice
. Nancy has spent the last 23 years teaching people how to get out of
debt, save money, and live better on less. She writes on all these subjects for

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  • Confused

    I personally would not keep the passport in a safe deposit box… you never want anything in a box that you may need if the bank happens to be closed… IMHO, weapons and passports are best kept at home in a fire-proof safe.

  • Jim

    I have a 3 inch thick fire/water proof safe in my basement that’s heavy enough it can’t be easily stolen so I know it’ll stay in my basement. If the unfortunate event were to happen, my most important stuff will be safe inside. I don’t like safe deposit boxes because it really doesn’t feel like I have absolute control over it.
    A double measure I also have is to scan documents and make them PDF files so they could be reproduced. These can be burned to CD/DVD and stored. Lately though I have thought since hard drives are starting to come down in price, I might do a regular backup to a drive and store it in my safe as well.
    Don’t put stuff like this off either because you’ll never do it. Then you can run into a problem if you need something.

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