The Family Paper Records You Need to Keep


When hard copy is required—socially and legally.


When Hard Copy is Required—Socially and Legally

As much as I encourage you to simplify your life by going paperless, I realize there are times when digital documents just won’t do. That doesn’t mean you can’t scan or snap those paper records and make them easily accessible in FileThis or another document organizer. But it does mean that you will need to use paper to (1) communicate and (2) store original documents.

Formal Social Communications = Paper

Whether you are writing a thank-you card to your grandma, sending a wedding invitation, or writing a condolence card, formal social communications really require paper. Make sending and receiving these notes a pleasure by using high-quality papers, a nice pen and a wax seal. The recipient is likely to doubt your sincerity if you text your gratitude or send an e-vite to your wedding.

While it’s a pleasure to receive these notes, don’t feel like you need to hang on to them forever. If you want to preserve the memory, snap a picture and then recycle it.

Signed & Sealed = Keep the Paper Record Forever

While most of the paper records that makes up your financial life can safely go digital, the documents from major life events are best retained. As a rule of thumb, if the document or paper record bears an original signature and raised official seal, you likely need to keep it. Documents to keep in original paper form include:

  • Birth certificates
  • Citizenship information
  • Court/litigation documents
  • Death certificates
  • Deeds
  • Divorce decrees
  • Education records
  • Employer defined-benefit plan communications
  • Estate-planning documents
  • Government benefits documentation
  • Immigration or naturalization documents
  • Life-insurance policies
  • Loan documents, promissory notes
  • Marriage certificates
  • Military discharge papers
  • Mortgage documents
  • Passports
  • Social Security cards
  • Stock certificates, bonds, and other actual financial instruments*
  • Titles for cars, boats, motorcycles, and other vehicles
  • Wills

Store these documents in a fire-resistant, waterproof, locked box in your house or in a safe-deposit box. According to, “Items experts recommend storing in a safety-deposit box include birth or marriage certificates, insurance policies, property deeds, rare coins, jewelry, irreplaceable family photos, stock or bond certificates, and foreign currency.” Do not keep the original copy of your will in a safe-deposit box as your family may not be able to access it.

Before you lock up these paper records and documents, don’t forget to send a copy to your digital document organizer. That way the information in them is easily accessible—anytime, anywhere—if not the document itself.

*If you have savings bonds, you can convert them to electronic form using the Treasury’s SmartExchange program, at