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    Birth certificates, court orders, medical records, social security cards, and wills are some of the most vital documents you will ever own. Though most have these somewhere in their home, do you know what you would do if something happened to them? The risk is widespread. According to a 2018 study, 41 million Americans live in a flood zone and in 2020 alone, 57,000 wildfires burned across California, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. Theft or disaster can strike anytime, leaving you without the paperwork needed to prove you really are you. Despite the importance of protecting these documents, though, the task doesn’t have to be arduous or expensive. Simply follow these steps to keep your vital documents safe.

    Make Copies of Your Vital Documents

    No matter the document, it never hurts to have more than one copy. If something were to happen to the original, you’d be secure in knowing you have multiple backups on hand. Once you receive any vital documents, request official hard copies from the agency or institution that issued them. Remember: a scanned and printed copy of your paperwork will usually not suffice for use in an official capacity.

    However, that isn’t to say that scanning doesn’t have its place. Digital copies of your vital records can be equally beneficial. Keep these in a very secure file location on your computer’s hard drive, preferably with password protection. This minimizes the chance of unauthorized people seeing your sensitive information. Cloud storage is convenient if you don’t want to back up your files, but it’s also more vulnerable to hacking.

    Store Them in a Safe Location

    Think about where your hard copy vital documents are currently stored. Are they in a file cabinet? In the attic? In the basement? Strewn about your office? Now consider all the worst-case scenarios that can happen in those locations. If you can think of a likely catastrophe that could damage or ruin your paperwork, it’s time to make a change.

    For example, basements may be prone to flooding. So, storing your vital documents in an above ground location or simply in a waterproof box can prevent irreparable damage. If you keep your documents in the attic, will animals use them for nesting material? A locking box can help prevent critter theft or damage. If you keep your papers in a file cabinet, make sure you have a lock and key for it. It’s as simple as that.

    Of course, the safest and most secure location to store a hard copy is in a fireproof and waterproof personal safe. Unfortunately, these can cost hundreds of dollars. While it’s a great investment, only you can decide if a safe is a worthy purchase.

    Keep Master Copies of Your Vital Documents Elsewhere

    With multiple official hard copies and digital copies at your disposal, you can move your original hard copies of your vital documents off-site. Keep these at a trusted family member or friend’s home or store them in a safety deposit box at your bank.

    Friend or family homes are convenient, but you also have limited control of how they store your documents and what they may do with them if you fall out. If you decide to get a safety deposit box, make sure you understand the bank’s policies regarding who may access the box in the event of your death or incapacitation.