As many corporations appear to be switching to ‘paperless’ forms of storing or transferring documents, it is necessary not to forget the importance of keeping certain documents in physical form. Both businesses and individuals should make an effort to keep their most important documents safe and secure. Often this safety can only been guaranteed by storing physical copies. Contrary to popular belief, paper is not completely redundant in the digital age!
Although we always make an effort to keep our expensive jewellery and poignant momentos safe, we often neglect to protect equally important things like our wills or our birth certificates. Protecting and storing these documents should be a top priority. Whether you use a home safe, a deposit box, or a rented storage container, the crucial point is that you are safeguarding your papers from being damaged or compromised in any way.
Are you unsure as to which papers you should be looking after and which you should be shredding? Fear not, document storage is our bread and butter! So let’s take a look at what documents you should keep safe in storage.
- Birth / death / marriage certificates: Make copies of these certificates when you need them for identification but keep the originals in safe keeping. Any copies that you do make should be shredded immediately after they have fulfilled their purpose.
- Wills and advanced decisions: Make sure that the executor of the will knows exactly where it has been stored. It’s best to have this information available in writing, as you don’t want to risk your will being inaccessible when your executor needs it most.
- Lasting power of attorney: Ensure that you keep the LPA and any copies somewhere that is safe and accessible for the attorneys. You never know when they will need it.
- Passports: Keep the original in safekeeping with scanned copies to hand when you need them. You will require your original passport for identification and travel purposes.
- House deeds and bills of sale: These documents are not usually needed until you sell the property to which they pertain, but keeping them safe and organised makes them a lot easier to find when the time comes.
- Mortgage statements: Should you need to prove that you made all on-time repayments to your mortgage lender, it’s best to keep these as proof of payment for up to a year.
- Utility bills: Paper copies need only be kept for a few months before you shred them, because almost all utility bills are paperless and available online nowadays.
- Receipts and warranty documents: Warranty documents should be stored safely until the warranty expires, whereas receipts can be kept for as long as it takes to decide whether or not you are happy with the product or service in question.
- Bank statements: Like bills, most bank statements are now available in paperless form. So that you have documents to hand should you need to prove anything, you may want to keep physical statements in storage for a few months before shredding them.
- Insurance policies: These documents should be kept safe for the length of the policy, as replacing them can be a real hassle and some policies need to be located quickly. Policies that you have cancelled or that have expired should be shredded after one year.
- Bonds: If they haven’t yet been cashed in they should be kept in storage until you do so.
- Tax returns: Since HMRC have a six year window in which to investigate your taxes, you should keep the original documents for this long to avoid unnecessary problems should this occur. Many advisors claim that even if you do shred the original document, you should always keep a secure copy of your tax returns.
- Tax receipts: You should also keep the documents relevant to your tax returns for 22 months after the end of the required tax year, including tax receipts and records.
Make sure that you shred sensitive and classified documents when you no longer need them, and choose the most secure method of shredding that you can afford. Make a conscious effort to flick through your documents every month and check whether or not any documents need to be shredded because they have expired. If you are in excess of documents that need shredding, as with big corporations and law firms, consider hiring a professional shredding service to destroy your documents in bulk.