Posted by: thomstrat | July 12, 2010

Home Records Management: Part 1 – Critical Documents

The most daunting part of managing your household records is, naturally, getting started. As with most large scale projects, it can seem overwhelming when considered as a whole, but becomes much more manageable when broken down into smaller tasks. Rather than try to locate, organize, and manage all your documentation all at once, you need to just pick a starting place.

Identifying Critical Documents

I recommend the best place to start is to locate and secure your most critical documents first. These include many of your “Highlander” documents, such as:

  • Birth certificates
  • Marriage certificates
  • Passports
  • Social Security Cards
  • Property Deeds or Titles
  • Will and Trusts
  • Adoption papers
  • Immigration papers
  • Death Certificates
  • Divorce papers

Also included are a few created documents, such as:

  • Advisers and contacts lists
  • Bank and financial account information
  • List of outstanding debt
  • Household property inventory
  • Insurance policy information

All of these are lumped together as critical documents because either they are irreplaceable or difficult to replace, contain information that cannot easily be duplicated should they or the source documents become lost or destroyed, or could expose you to legal liability if you are unable to produce them. In other words, these are the documents that should be considered for storage outside your home.

Collecting Critical Documents

The next step is to start collecting those documents. Identify a secure place in your home where you can start putting these documents. Keep them in a single file or container so that you can grab them easily in case of emergency. Find one or two more each time you have a few minutes to spend, or get it over all in one go if you prefer. But get them together in one place.

Make Backup Copies

Whether you make photocopies or scan them into an electronic file, get a functional copy of each document to keep on hand for home reference. Electronic copies are often best as they take up little space and can be copied as often as needed. If you don’t have a scanner, borrow a friend’s long enough to get an electronic copy of each document. Burn the files to a disc, and password protect either the disc or the individual files where applicable.

Create an Off-site Repository

Once you have your backup copies, take the original documents and store them someplace secure from theft, fire, or water damage. In most cases your best options are a bank safe deposit box or a fireproof document safe. For more thoughts and information on safes and safe deposit boxes, see this post.

It may also be helpful to leave one set of backup copies with a trusted family member or friend (and offer the same service in return). In this instance, electronic copies are best, as they take up only a single disc in most cases and will not provide too great a storage burden.

Note: Once you have obtained and filled a safe deposit box, it is a good idea to make an inventory of everything that is in it. This will make it easier to conduct regular reviews to make sure everything is current, and in the unlikely event that something happens to your box or the bank, will provide a list of lost items for insurance or legal purposes.

Annual Reviews

At least once a year you will want to review the contents of your off-site storage. Take a physical inventory to ensure nothing has been misplaced, and that anything taken out during the year (ie. passports for travel) has been put back. Update the documentation where appropriate (ie. a document or its information has changed). Test any electronic storage media to ensure the information is still retrievable. Ensure that any documents left with friends can still be located.

And You’re Done!

Congratulations! If you’ve done all this you’re already doing the most important records management work you can do! Once these most critical documents are secure you can rest a lot easier. An hour or two every year is all you will need to keep this part of your records storage under control.

Of course there is more to be done. Stay tuned for Part 2.

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. […] Thoughts on Safes and Safe Deposit Boxes In another post I talked about methods for securing your critical documents, which brought up the side-topic of […]

  2. Home Records Management: Part 1 ? Critical Documents…

    I found your entry interesting do I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

  3. […] edition helps you take the first step to getting all your documents under control by starting with the most critical ones. There’s also a little off-shoot discussion on safes and safe deposit boxes. Please go and […]

  4. […] is an area I can certainly do better on, even though I’ve discussed it before. But our recent mortgage application, relocation, and trying to find stuff after the move […]

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