Posted by: thomstrat | March 5, 2010

Home Records Management: What Records Should You Keep?

Welcome to the first article in my series on home records management. This series will help you determine what records you need to keep, how to keep them, how long to keep them, and how to keep them safe. This first article will address what records you should be keeping.

What is a record? A record is defined in the dictionary as “an account in writing or the like preserving the memory or knowledge of facts or events, information or knowledge preserved in writing or the like, or an official writing intended to be preserved.” Or, to put it more simply, a record is any information that it is important to preserve. Some records are more important than others, but for information to be a record it must be worth preserving in the first place.

There are numerous types of records that are of at least minimal importance to operating a household effectively. While the following list is not exhaustive, it should be sufficient to give you an idea of what information is worth keeping. Each could almost be an article by itself:

Records Everyone Should Keep

  • Advisers and contacts list
  • Bank and financial account information
  • Birth certificates
  • Credit card information
  • List of outstanding debt
  • Drivers licenses
  • Education records
  • Employment records
  • Family health records
  • Financial statements
  • Health benefit information
  • Household property inventory
  • Income and expense records
  • Insurance policies
  • Investment/pension plan records
  • Loan statements
  • Marriage certificates
  • Memberships and subscriptions
  • Net worth statements
  • Passports
  • Property deeds, titles, or appraisals
  • Receipts for paid debts
  • Receipts for expensive items not yet paid off
  • Receipts for items under warranty
  • Safe-deposit box inventory
  • Social Security cards and numbers
  • Tax records and working papers
  • Warranties, guarantees, and owners manuals
  • Wills and trusts (yours and others)

Records You May Want to Keep

  • Canceled checks (these days most banks offer images online)
  • Family history
  • Funeral and burial plans and records

Records to Keep in Certain Circumstances – May not apply to everyone

  • Adoption papers
  • Baptism and confirmation records
  • Bond and stock certificates (few businesses issue paper certificates these days)
  • Business ownership papers
  • Citizenship and naturalization papers
  • Death certificates
  • Divorce papers
  • Easement papers
  • Health and hospital cards
  • Important contracts
  • Military and veteran records
  • Patents and copyrights
  • Powers of attorney
  • Veterinary records

Yes, that’s quite a list. The good news is that you’re probably already keeping most of those already. The trick is keeping them in a place where you know to find them again that is appropriate to the level of security needed. And chances are, even if you have been keeping many of these records, you have no real system for ensuring you capture every document every time. Spotty record-keeping can sometimes be as bad as no record-keeping.

Recognizing a record when you see it, however, is half the battle, and that’s what the above list is for. Familiarizing yourself with the list can help you realize that that receipt crammed in your wallet or that credit card bill is important and needs to be kept. Then it becomes a matter of creating a system for storing your records correctly.

That’s the next step, and the topic for another article.

Thom Stratton was a documentation strategies analyst for a Fortune 40 company. Today he is a Business and IT Consultant, and co-owner of two online business, Kitchen Riches and BT Game Vault. Documentation and record-keeping remain a passion.


  1. Thom, Why divorce papers? Is there something I should know about that? I don’t know for sure but I think I may have gotten rid of Tom’s divorce decree.

    • I don’t know of any specific reasons on that one, but in any case where courts get involved and two parties are not exactly getting along it’s probably a good idea to hang on to the paperwork. If for no other reason that Murphy’s Law.

      UPDATE: I had a thought later on. In many divorces there will be court decrees that remain in force for a length of time, such as alimony payments, child support and visitation rights, etc. Should there ever be a conflict over any one of those it will likely not go well for whomever can’t produce the documentation. And, as I mentioned in reply to Taxidrivermom, there’s always the “someone else making sense of your situation if you die” angle.

      • It may also be useful sometime to prove that he actually did get divorced before he married you.

  2. Advisers and contacts — is that like financial advisers or what? Or insurance agents?

    • I would recommend listing financial advisers, lawyers, accountants, insurance agents–anyone who you rely on to any degree for your well-being. Or, to put it more starkly, if you died tomorrow and someone who was unfamiliar with your circumstances had to step in and tie up your affairs, who would you need them to be able to contact? Who would need to know you’d died?

      It’s not something we like to think about, but much of the value in record-keeping is not just for your, but for your kids or your executor.

  3. Very good point! I have really appreciated the fact that Mom keeps a list of all her medications and a very good diary of her blood sugar readings and it helps immensely that Ron knows where to find them. We have needed them several times when we had to take her to the hospital because she was too “out of it” to be coherent. She also included a list of the medications she can’t take because she is allergic to them or because they caused a reaction with other medications.

  4. I think it’s very important to keep detailed records of documents you never know when you are going to need them. Althuogh you need to take care to be organised and make back up copies, should anything happen to your home you need to be able to access the information you have carefully stored and collected.

  5. […] Home Records Management: What Records Should You Keep? March 2010 7 comments […]

  6. […] series on home document management continues over at The Knot in the Rope. Last installment was identifying potential records. This time I discuss different types of documents, as a prelude to exploring different ways of […]

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