As Fayette County’s Register of Wills, Jeffrey Redman understands the importance of keeping documents.
“It’s a good idea to take care of important papers and let your spouse or a child know where they are,’’ said Redman. “Make a list and keep everything in a fireproof safe. ‘If I die today, this is what you should do.’ This is the title to the car, birth certificates. If you have a second house, here’s the deed. I used to have them scattered around the house but now I see the importance of keeping records in a safe place.’’
Take, for example, a birth certificate, which is needed to obtain a marriage license as well as a Social Security card or passport. And all those other documents should be stored carefully as well.
Keeping vital records in a safe place at home is a concern not only in the event of a death, but also if there’s a disaster.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) notes on its website that in the aftermath of a disaster, “Having your financial and medical records and important contact information will be crucial to help you start the recovery process quickly. Taking time now to safeguard these critical documents will give you peace of mind, ensure you have access to essential medical and prescription information, and help you avoid additional stress during the difficult days following a disaster.’’
Like Redman, FEMA recommends storing paper copies of important documents at home in a fireproof and waterproof box or safe. FEMA notes people may also consider a bank safe deposit box or keeping copies with a friend or relative.
FEMA also suggests storing electronic copies of important documents in a password-protected format on a removable flash or external hard drive in a fireproof and waterproof box or safe, or consider using a secure cloud-based service. The agency advises visiting www.us-cert.gov/ncas/tips/st04-019to learn how to use electronic encryption to protect sensitive information.
“Think about where you store valuable belongings and ways to better protect these items,’’ notes the FEMA website. “If you have valuable items stored in a basement, you may want to move them to a higher location and put them in waterproof containers to avoid water damage. Or you may want to keep small items in a flood/fireproof home safe. You may also want to secure items that are displayed on shelves or walls if your home may be subject to high winds or earthquakes.’’
But what to store? Follow Redman’s advise to make a list.
Start with documents needed for identification.
Redman said, “Everybody needs a birth certificate.’’
He explained that birth and death certificates for people who were born or died in Pennsylvania are kept in the Division of Vital Records in New Castle.
“If you send for them in the mail, it can take two weeks to two months to receive them,’’ said Redman. “If you go to New Castle before 10 a.m., you can get them the same day.’’
Redman explained an issue now affecting documents is REAL ID.
The website for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania explains, “Beginning October 1, 2020, Pennsylvanians will need a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license, photo ID card, or another form of federally-acceptable identification (such as a valid passport or military ID) to board a domestic commercial flight or enter a federal building or military installation that requires ID. REAL IDs will be available in March 2019 to Pennsylvanians who want them.’’
Redman said, “Anyone who renews a driver’s license and changed their name needs to get a certified copy of their marriage license.’’
Anyone who was married in Fayette County can obtain a certified marriage license at the record of deeds office.
“We used to do two a week. Now, we’re probably doing 10 a day,’’ said Redman. “There is a $10 fee for that. But if you were ever in the military, we’ll waive that fee.’’
The Pennsylvania website said that REAL ID requires proof of all legal name changes, including a court order or divorce decree.
More information is available at www.dmv.pa.gov/REALID.
Meanwhile, the FEMA website includes a list of documents a person may need.
Identification: Vital records (birth, marriage, divorce certificate, adoption, child custody papers), passport, driver’s license, Social Security card, green card, military service identification, pet ownership papers and identification tags.
Financial and legal documentation: Housing: lease or rental agreement, mortgage, home equity line of credit, deed. Vehicle: loan documents, VIN, registration, title. Other financial obligations: utility bills, credit cards, student loans, alimony, child support, elder care, automatic payments such as gym memberships. Financial accounts: checking, savings, debit cards, retirement, investments. Insurance policies: homeowners, renters, auto, life, flood, appraisals, photos, and lists of valuable items. Sources of income: pay stubs, government benefits, alimony, child support. Tax statements: federal/state income tax returns, property tax, vehicle tax. Estate planning: will, trust, power of attorney.
Medical information: Health/dental insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, VA health benefits. List of medications, immunizations, allergies, prescriptions, medical equipment and devices, pharmacy information. Living will, medical power of attorney. Caregiver agency contract or service agreement. Disabilities documentation. Contact information for doctors/specialists, dentists, pediatricians, veterinarians.
Emergency contact information: Employers/supervisors, schools, houses of worship, social service providers, home owners associations. Home repair services: utilities, plumber, roofer, carpenter, electrician,
FEMA also says to consider valuable personal items, such as family photos and keepsakes as well as possessions of monetary value, including jewelry, art and collectibles.
Keeping these documents in a safe place at home means protection as well as easy access.
A little planning ahead of time can be a help when applying for a license or new job and of great value in times of emergency.