Make sure your important documents are safe in the event of a disaster.
Use this guide to ensure that your important files are never lost.
Create your digital document protection plan.
From flash flooding to unexpected housefires, the possibilities you don’t want to think about are why you need an insurance policy for your files. Electronic backups like external hard drives can only do so much — if stored at home when something happens, they won’t be helpful. Even faraway disasters can interfere with electronic documentation by damaging power grids and backup servers.
Digital documents and backups are essential in a world where USAA says that nearly 100 percent of disaster claims have gone digital. Use this list to start your digital filing cabinet of key docs.
Start with an important digital documents checklist.
You can only protect and back up what you keep track of, so the first step of your document contingency plan is taking stock of all your most crucial paperwork. Use these lists to ensure you don’t miss anything vital:
● Social Security cards
From opening a bank account or line of credit to purchasing a home, your Social Security card will most likely be required. Also, if your Social Security number isn’t secure, it can lead to identity theft.
● Birth certificates
Your birth certificate is important legal proof of your age, citizenship status, and identity. It can be required for traveling, registering for school, and obtaining or replacing other documentation.
● Marriage certificates
A marriage certificate is a vital record and proof of your marriage. It could be important to apply for health benefits, apply for loans or mortgages, or file taxes.
Besides their obvious and important use in traveling, your passport can also prove your identity and citizenship for domestic purposes.
● Proof of address
One of the best forms of proof of address is a recent utility bill with your name on it. Proof of address is frequently required to obtain documentation and open bank accounts.
● Name change documentation
If you’ve changed your name after marriage or for any reason, you could be required to provide proof of name change at the Social Security office or the DMV.
● Military identification
If you have military identification, it’s important that it doesn’t get lost. It helps you access all of your benefits (including health care and child care) and to get on base.
● Tribal identification
If you are enrolled as a member of a tribe, your tribal ID card is proof. It is also valid for other government ID purposes.
● Citizenship papers
Citizenship papers are given if you become a US citizen after the age of 18. Making sure they don’t get lost is important so that you can have them to prove your rights as a citizen.
You may have a visa if you are a citizen of another country living in the United States. If you have one, your visa is very important for travel and employment purposes.
● Professional certifications
These documents can be proof of the time, money, and effort that you put into your professional certifications. Like all of the documents listed here, they can be very difficult to replace.
● Tax information
Because your tax records contain so much personal information, it’s important to keep them safe. You’ll also want to make sure they don’t get lost because you’ll need them, come tax season.
● Insurance policies
Having your insurance policies in a safe place will make it much easier to file a claim and confirm the details of your policy. In the case of a disaster, this could be especially useful.
● Bank statements and records
Bank statements and records are important when filing taxes or applying for benefits.
Keeping invoices and preventing them from getting lost can help keep your business organized and ensure you don’t lose any money you’re owed.
● Pay stubs
Like bank statements, pay stubs can be required when filing taxes or applying for benefits.
● Warranty information
Keeping your warranty information safe will help make sure that you’re able to use your warranties and you won’t lose money.
● Proof of purchase for large purchases
Keeping proof of purchase for large purchases safe could be important for tax, warranty, or business purposes.
● Investment statements
Investment statements can help you defend your taxes in the case of an IRS audit.
● Copies of paid medical bills
Copies of medical bills may be requested by your insurance and help you get the coverage you’re paying for. They could also be important when filing taxes.
● Beneficiary forms
Beneficiary forms designate who will receive your retirement plan benefits after you die. Keeping them safe can prevent confusion and ensure your beneficiaries are able to receive your benefits.
● Retirement and pension plans
It’s important that you’re able to access your retirement and pension plans to ensure you get your benefits and in case of an audit.
● Inheritance documents
A will and other inheritance documents will be required by a court after your death. Maintaining access to these documents can prevent hardship for your heirs.
● Lease agreements
Your lease agreements are proof of your lease and have the terms of your lease. Whether you’re the owner or renter, they’re important to access, especially in legal situations.
● Real estate agreements
Real estate agreements protect both buyer and seller and could be essential for you to have if a problem arises.
● Mortgage statements
Keeping your mortgage statements can help you ensure that you have an accurate accounting of your payments. These statements could also prove useful during tax season.
● Vehicle documentation
Inspection documents and title paperwork can help you sell and insure your vehicle.
● Appraisal information
You don’t want to lose the appraisal information that you’ve paid an appraiser for. Appraisals aren’t just important for selling, but could also serve a purpose in your taxes.
● Proof of purchase for expensive items
Proof of purchase can help you get insurance, warranties, or rebates. You can also be compensated if your expensive items are damaged and you want to file for their loss.
● Home inspection reports
Having previous home inspection reports can be crucial in getting compensated for damage related to a disaster.
● Living wills
Having access to your living will can help your loved ones and medical providers make sure that you receive the care you want in case you’re not able to advocate for yourself.
● Power of attorney documentation
If you want to use your power of attorney (POA), you will need documentation proving it.
● Trust documents
Providing documents like a certificate of trust may be required when you’re acting on behalf of the trust.
● Death certificates
Storing death certificates safely can help you get life insurance, pension benefits, or settle an estate.
● Legal filings
Court filings can be legal proof and may represent lots of effort or money spent through a lawyer.
● Child custody documents
Keeping important documents safe like child custody papers can help prevent confusion if problems arise.
● Adoption papers
Adoption papers are vital to keep safe. They prove the adoption, and they may contain information to help a child find their birth parents.
● Divorce papers
Keeping legal papers associated with and proving your divorce can be useful in court or for sorting out other financial situations.
● Naturalization documents
Naturalization documents are given if you become a US citizen after the age of 18. Making sure they don’t get lost is important so that you can have them to prove your rights as a citizen.
● Health insurance cards
Health insurance cards are important papers to keep because they allow you to access healthcare and prescriptions.
● Vaccination records
Healthcare providers and schools may need access to your or your family’s vaccination records.
● Copies of paid medical bills
Storing important papers like copies of medical bills will help you if they are requested by your insurance.
● Disability documentation
Keep your disability documentation safe so you can ensure you’re getting the benefits and access that you need.
● VA documentation
You may have Veterans Affairs (VA) documents if you’ve served in the military. Access to your VA documentation can be required if you’re applying for benefits or a loan.
Take protection a step further with these document storage best practices.
You’ll need to take different precautions depending on how you store your physical and electronic documents. Follow these steps to ensure you have copies and separate storage locations to keep everything safe.
Tips for physical paperwork storage.
While many documents nowadays are electronic, there are still some (such as Social Security cards) that must be kept as a hard copy. And as paper can be easily lost or damaged during a fire or flooding, redundancies are essential.
While no solution will work for every situation, these potential backup options for hard copies will give you a place to start:
- Store documents in a waterproof container. This will ensure they’re still legible and usable in the case of flooding. Even if you’re not in a flood-prone area, water damage can happen when your home is being protected from a fire.
- Store similar categories of documents in the same place. If you know where to keep your important documents, it will prevent them from getting lost or disorganized.
- Establish an intuitive filing system so that your papers are easier to find and access.
- Create electronic backup copies if applicable. Electronic backup copies will ensure that the information on your important documents is always available to you. It can also make replacing original copies much easier.
- Lock up important documents to protect yourself from identity theft. It can also prevent children from tampering with or losing important files.
- Include copies in a sealed bag as part of your emergency preparedness kit. If you have to leave your home in a hurry, you’ll have all of your important papers with you. Identification papers can be especially important in an emergency.
- Store copies in a safe and secure offsite location. In case a disaster leaves your home inaccessible, your important documents will still be available.
How to back up electronic copies of key documents.
Electronic copies of documents are easy to access, store, and search. In many cases, they are more secure than physical copies. But even electronic copies can be lost in an accident. Server room damage, faulty maintenance, and poor cybersecurity can put these docs at risk.
Consider the following measures to protect your important electronic documents in the event of a disaster:
- Scan and convert important image-based documents into PDFs. There are many reasons to convert to PDF, including saving space and money and making documents easier to share and secure.
- Create an intuitive system for storing PDFs and other files. This will help you avoid frustration when you need to access your documents.
- Arrange PDFs in an intuitive manner so different elements of each file are easy to find.
- Use cloud backup and collaboration tools to create secure digital copies. If your devices or hard drives are damaged, you’ll know that your important documents are still safe.
- Investigate a management company for electronic file storage. They can also help you scan physical documents, capture data from them, and digitize your files.
- Ask any remote file management companies you intend to use about their disaster contingency practices. Adobe has contingency practices for business, legal, and medical files alike.
- Use password protection. Password protecting a PDF allows you to regulate access to your files. Adobe can help you create strong passwords for your PDFs.
- Use multifactor authentication to keep your information safe from hackers and would-be identity thieves.
- Prepare a backup power solution. This is especially important for businesses.
- Use online options such as online banking. You’ll have fewer paper bank statements to keep track of, and converting important documents to PDF will be simpler.
- Ensure that you have an effective file-sharing system with coworkers. Members of your team will be able to access important files even if your device crashes.
- Store copies on an external hard drive in a safe, offsite location.
Future-proofing your documents and data.
If it’s not well-organized, it can be easy to lose track of documents over time in even the most secure digital backup. But with Adobe Acrobat tools, you can keep your digital file cache neatly organized and easy to use.
- Merge PDFs and other related files together and clearly label them to make important info easy to find.
- Compress PDFs and other files to reduce the storage space needed.
- Conduct regular risk assessments so that your risk management plans stay updated.
- Periodically review files for accuracy, quality, and adherence to filing standards. This can prevent disorganized files from piling up.
How small business owners and entrepreneurs can protect their files.
With fewer resources compared to larger enterprises, it can be a significant pain for small businesses, freelancers, and entrepreneurs to back up and protect files in a simple-to-use system. But it’s still essential to have a plan to protect your files.
- Review and back up legal documents related to business operations, such as business registration and licensing, accounting information, tax information, client records, and business records. Your documents will be more secure and easier to manage if you back them up as PDFs.
- Secure client and financial records, such as contact information and invoices. If you are using PDFs, you can make life simpler by getting electronic signatures on your documents.
- Keep personal documents and professional documents stored separately.
- Conduct a risk assessment so that you’re using the appropriate amount of time and resources on your document storage contingency plans.
- Create a filing system that’s easy to navigate and adhere to for all staff.
- Digitize documents so that an electronic record of all important files exists. For the best security, convert all of your documents to PDFs.
- Use a cloud collaboration and backup system so that business keeps running smoothly even if an important device fails.
- Use multifactor authentication to protect both individual docs and the cloud system where they are housed.
- Keep digital copies of documents on an external hard drive or physical copies of documents in a separate, secure location. In case of a disaster, you’ll know you have a backup.
Explore additional resources to ensure you’re prepared.
- Adobe Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery. This is a program designed to help businesses re-establish normal business operations following a large-scale disruption.
- FEMA.gov. The Federal Emergency Management Agency was established to help citizens during and after disasters.
- Ready.gov. Ready is a public service campaign designed to help citizens properly prepare for and manage emergencies, such as natural disasters.
- Ready.gov (Risk Assessment). This page explains what a risk assessment is and provides advice, examples, and additional resources for assessing risks related to large-scale emergencies.
- DisasterAssistance.gov. This search tool allows you to find and apply for local support opportunities after a disaster.
When the best-laid plans go awry, it’s good peace of mind to know your most important documents are safe in the cloud. Thankfully, digital backup technology like Adobe Document Cloud is your life preserver in times of trouble. It’s a quick and easy solution for all your digital document needs. And you can sleep easier knowing that key files and documents won’t be lost.
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