For those of you who can't remember where you stashed, say, the flood insurance policy or the warranty for the fridge, this organizing project will help you create a Vital Documents Map. It's not nearly as overwhelming as it sounds. You're merely creating an inventory of your most important records, so that in an emergency, you'll be able to find or reconstruct them with ease. At this point, you may be hyperventilating and thinking, 'Where do I even start?' Relax. This whole process shouldn't take more than two or three hours and will give you enormous peace of mind.

Location list of records
This short index is easy to create. Open each file drawer (or box) where you keep records, and list the contents. Example: top drawer of the black filing cabinet—car records, club memberships, employment info, insurance policies. Green box under the guest room bed—medical records, mortgage, tax records. Bowl on top of the refrigerator—warranties and paid bills.

Use this worksheet to help organize your important papers.

Photocopies of what's in your wallet
Once a year, make a copy of all the credit and ID cards you carry around. Place as many cards as will fit on the screen, photocopy, then flip the cards over and do the other side. Don't forget medical insurance, voter registration and health club membership cards. If your wallet ever disappears, here are some numbers that will come in handy:

To report lost or stolen cards, contact:
Visa (800-VISA-911)
American Express (800-441-0519)
MasterCard (800-307-7309)

Then register for fraud alert with the three credit bureaus:
Equifax (800-525-6285)
Experian (888-EXPERIAN)
TransUnion (800-680-7289)

Master list of all your accounts
(Savings, checking and credit card, as well as investment and insurance records)
Millions of dollars go unclaimed every year because people lose track of their holdings. Remember that insurance policy you bought in college? Hey, you could have money coming to you! Write down every bank, credit card, investment and insurance account you have. For each, list the institution, type of account (checking? money market?), owner or policyholder (you? you and a relative?), account number and contact information. Add frequent flier accounts, computer access codes and any other key passwords to this document.

Use this master list worksheet to keep track of all your accounts.

Safe-deposit-box inventory
Make a list of all the irreplaceables (jewelry, photo negatives, heirlooms) as well as the critical documents (marriage license, birth certificate, stocks and bonds) that you've stored under lock and key. Photocopy the documents for your household files.

Once you've completed your Vital Documents Map, store a copy in three different places: (1) in a clearly marked folder in your home or office (2) with your attorney, a close friend, or a family member who doesn't live with you and (3) in your safe-deposit box.


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