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Managing family, personal and financial records

June 06, 2013|Linda Duffield

When was the last time you couldn’t find an important paper you knew you had carefully put away? Getting organized is not easy. It takes time and commitment to get all your family records in order and to answer such questions as: Where does our money go? How much do we own? How much do we owe? Organizing and keeping family records in a business-like manner can save you time, trouble, money and frustration.

In establishing a record-keeping system, you need to consider: what records should be kept; where they should be kept; and how long they should be kept.


Generally, records serve one of three functions:

  •  Provide evidence of some significant event in an individual’s life such as a birth, death or marriage.
  •  Provide proof of ownership in cases of loss such as fire or theft or, services provided by warranties, etc.
  •  Provide a record of financial matters (budgeting, investing and determining tax liabilities) and those related to personal matters (health records, passports, etc.).
  • Records can be kept either at home or in a safe deposit box. The location of some specific items depends on the amount of fire and theft protection available at home. Safe deposit boxes are available in most financial institutions and offer greater protection from fire and theft than most homes. All records that are difficult to replace, or irreplaceable, should be stored in a safe deposit box.
  • Active home files should contain items necessary for family and household operation such as information related to current years’ taxes; medical records; bills; insurance policies; appliance warranties; a copy of your will; inventory of safe deposit box, etc. Older records and information can be in archived files, located in a safe, less convenient area of your home. The outer container of all your home files should be fireproof, or at least fire resistant.
  • Consider scanning and storing some documents electronically because it’s best to save your important documents and files in a way that can easily be carried away and accessed later. Scanning will give you easy access to your documents and allow you to transfer them via email and easily make back-up copies. Investing in an external hard drive for your computer and regularly backing up important documents will allow you to carry away the external hard drive at a moment’s notice.


How long do you keep records? Generally, personal records should be kept permanently, many other records should be kept a minimum of three years. Visit www.usa.gov/Topics/Money/Personal-Finance/Managing-Household-Records.shtml for a guide on how long to keep different records. 

As you consider discarding personal and financial records be certain you are disposing of them in way that protects your personal identity.  For more information regarding deterring identity theft visit www.ftc.gov and click on identity theft. 

As you work on your recordkeeping system also work on developing your personal Emergency financial first aid kit. This toolkit will help you identify and organize key financial records and  provide a quick reference file for your most important financial documents.  This tool could help you maintain financial stability in the event of an emergency.  Visit www.operationhope.org/emergency-kit for a copy of the Emergency Financial Toolkit.  You can also find information on emergency preparedness at www.ready.gov.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Extension in Washington County.

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