New Year’s resolution: organize those emergency documents

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The New Year is the perfect time to get organized. It’s out with the old and in with the new as people everywhere clean out their closets, tackle the stuffed filing cabinet in the home office and trash old computer files.

There really is something freeing about purging those jeans from high school and shredding 20-year-old tax documents. It’s also the perfect time to organize the files and documents you need to keep and put them all in one, easy-to-access place.

When the time comes, you’ll want your spouse, children or other designated guardian to find all those important papers with ease.

So what should you put in your “important papers” box? Tom Tolly, an attorney in West Ashely, recommends including the following documents:

  • Last will and testament plus a health care power of attorney with living will and a financial power of attorney.
  • Life insurance policy.
  • Information on investment accounts, such as stocks, bonds or 401(k) policies.
  • Details for any pre-made funeral arrangements. To save your family the financial and emotional burden of planning a funeral, you can make many arrangements long before you pass away. If you wrote your own obituary, include that with you documents as well.
  • Paperwork for any major debts, especially your mortgage, car or any other significant loans.
  • Titles to any assets or property such as vehicles or boats.
  • Bank account numbers.
  • Identifying documents like your social security card, birth certificate, marriage license, divorce papers, passport or military records.
  • Your digital footprint – passwords to your email account, social media accounts and other online sites that you’ll want either memorialized or deleted after you pass away.

Once you have these items gathered together, put them in one box or filing cabinet drawer so you can get to them easily. You might also consider investing in a fire-proof box or safe for added security. Having all your documents in one spot also makes it easy to grab them in case of an emergency, such as a hurricane evacuation. A safety deposit box is also a secure option for such sensitive documents.

You can also create a secure, online archive using a site like where you can house digital copies of your critical documents.

The final step is sharing the location of your documents with your spouse, children or loved ones. You may even want to take the time to walk them through any of the more complex documents or potential issues so they aren’t caught off guard. If you and your spouse have small children, you may also want to share this information with the person you’ve designated as their guardian in the event something happens to both of you.

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