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How to Safely Store Your Important Documents at Home

By RBC Insurance • Published March 5, 2024 • 7 Min Read

We start collecting paperwork the day we’re born. And as your family and assets grow, so do the piles (and piles!) of important documents. Your sock drawer might feel like an easy-access, fairly secure landing zone for these essential papers, but there are better ways to organize and secure them.

A streamlined and secure system can help prevent the frustration and panic of looking for something you need at a moment’s notice. And, in the event of an insurance claim or a significant life event, proper storage will help you and the trusted people in your life find what is necessary during times of need.

Quick access and security are key considerations when it comes to keeping a document safe. Whether that’s digitizing backup documents or safekeeping physical and original documents—passports and birth certificates, for example—for identification, we’re sharing tips on how to help keep your essential documents safe.

Key takeaways

  • We all have various types of important documents that need to be protected.

  • Identification, insurance, financial, legal, health, housing, vehicle and employment documents are important to keep secure and in a safe place.

  • You can store important documents in a safety deposit box, a filing cabinet, or a fireproof lockbox.

  • Backups of important documents can be password-protected on digital cloud services.

  • Always shred important documents you no longer need.

What important documents should you store safely?

Identifying what’s important is the first step. We’ve listed below many kinds of paperwork that need document organization for safe storage. 

Personal identification and proof-of-identity documents

Some of these documents are OK to have on you when you leave the house on your daily outings (for example, a driver’s licence is necessary to carry while driving), but others, such as  your social insurance number, should be memorized and never carried around in your wallet or purse.

Proof-of-identity documents include:

  • Passport (fine to have on you for a trip, but store safely when not travelling)

  • Social insurance card and number (don’t write the number down and make sure you leave your card at home)

  • Birth certificate and adoption records

  • Marriage certificate or divorce decree

  • Citizenship-related documents

  • Driver’s license

  • Government-issued photo identification card

It’s important to make copies of all your identification documents and store them at home, in case you ever misplace them.

Financial and legal documents

Keep your financial and legal paperwork stored safely (yet easily accessible) for banking, custody settlements, and estate planning. Be sure to include:

  • Will and estate planning documents

  • Power of attorney and health-care proxy

  • Bank account information

  • Investment and retirement account details

  • Tax records and returns

  • Child custody agreements

  • Life insurance documents

Health-care records

What important documents you choose to store here will vary. You might not need an emergency room form for that time your turkey-carving went sideways, but do include anything relating to your overall health and well-being. Health records to include are:

  • Health insurance information, including your health card and any insurance information (such as details about the benefits you receive through work)

  • Medical history and prescriptions

Property and housing documents

Whether you own or rent, there’s a surplus of paperwork that’s important to keep close for reference or insurance claims:

  • Homeownership documents such as your deed or mortgage

  • Lease or rental agreements, including rent receipts if your landlord supplies them

  • Property insurance policies for home and/or rentals units and properties

  • Appraisals

  • Property tax bills

  • Renovation receipts and remediation letters for structural changes (such as rewiring to remove old knob and tube) in case you need to show proof to your insurance company

Vehicle records

Vehicle ownership comes with a slew of documents you need to keep organized. Have these records on you when you are driving and store the copies of them at home:

  • Vehicle registration and title (keep these in your vehicle)

  • Auto insurance policies

  • Vehicle identification number (VIN), which you can also find on the driver’s side dash of the windshield

Do hang on to maintenance and repair history documents. While these don’t need to be stored in your vehicle, they’re good to keep, as they provide an overall picture of the reliability and safety of your car.

Education and employment records

That diploma cost a pretty penny and is worthy of safekeeping. Many careers, such as real estate and teaching, require you to renew or update your licensing and certifications, which is why keeping your education and employment records secure and handy matters. Education and employment records include:

  • Academic transcripts and diplomas

  • Professional licences and certifications

Where should you store important documents?

Different types of documents warrant different types of storage. Whatever way you choose to organize and store these papers, it’s good practice to keep them away from heat and humidity. Store important paper documents in plastic sleeves (though, steer clear of polyvinyl chloride,  a.k.a “PVC,” which can cause materials to break down very quickly).

If you find in your organization that you no longer need a receipt, bank statement, or other important document, use a paper shredder before discarding it. Check with your municipality on how to best dispose of shredded paper in your specific area, as the rules vary by region. 

Consider these storage options as you tackle your document organization.

Safety deposit box

Original documents—proof of identity, certificates, social insurance cards, and property documents—are items that can go in a safety deposit box. It might be worth sharing access to your safety deposit box with a trusted family member or a friend. In the event that you pass away or are injured, they will have quick access to your important documents. Talk to your bank about opening a safety deposit box at your home branch.

Fire and waterproof lockbox or safe

If you need to keep confidential or important documents at home instead of at a bank or a financial institution, consider a fire and waterproof lockbox or safe to keep things protected in the event of a fire or a flood. You can generally purchase these at big box hardware stores, office supply stores, or from various retailers online.

Filing cabinet

The filing cabinet has been around since the 1890s—and for good reason. It’s the workhorse of efficiency and document management, but you need to take care where it’s stored, to make sure your documents stay safe. We recommend storing yours in a cool, dry location, so your papers remain structurally intact and legible.

Cloud-based storage

Living in the 21st century has its perks, and digital storage solutions are a great option for housing backups of your important documents. Ensure you use password protection (there are sites to help you generate strong passwords with a series of characters and numbers) to add a layer of security to personal documents. You can store passwords in a notebook you keep in your safety deposit box or locked in a safe.

But, no matter what steps you take to protect your documents and identity online, you’re still at risk. Cyber insurance helps to reduce the financial impacts of cyber crime by covering legal costs, the costs of an investigation, or the costs to restore stolen or corrupted data. This coverage can easily be added to your RBC Insurance home insurance policy.

On your person

Some things you have to carry around as you’re out and about, because they’re used daily. Keep your driver’s licence or identification card securely on you when you’re not at home.

Important documents aren’t the only things you’ll want to keep safe in your home. Speak with an RBC Insurance Advisor to learn how the right home insurance can help keep you and your family protected.

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*Home and auto insurance products are distributed by RBC Insurance Agency Ltd. and underwritten by Aviva General Insurance Company. In Quebec, RBC Insurance Agency Ltd. Is registered as a damage insurance agency. As a result of government-run auto insurance plans, auto insurance is not available through RBC Insurance in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia.

This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.

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