Authors as Published

Celia Ray Hayhoe, CFP®, Extension Family Resource Management Specialist, Virginia Tech

Be Prepared!

Life’s emergency situations require advance preparation and planning. The first step is organizing your papers and communicating with appropriate individuals. Do you have an appropriate place for each document? Have you told anyone else where you keep your vital information? And have you shared your wishes in the event of your death? Many situations require that you take action now to avoid financial problems later.

Natural Disasters

Wherever you live, there is always the risk of floods, fires, and other natural disasters that could result in the destruction of your home. Prepare yourself so that if such situations occur, you can minimize the impact. All sales receipts and contracts should be systematically filed for easy access when reporting a claim. The originals should be kept in a safe place, and a  copy elsewhere, in case the originals are damaged or destroyed.


Theft of personal belongings can occur in an instant. Your purse could be stolen from your office at work, or your camera from your vehicle. Are you prepared for this? Do you have a list of all your credit card numbers on file, with the necessary contact information, so you can quickly report stolen cards before they are used unlawfully?  Or do you at least have your most recent credit card statements, with account numbers and company contact information, where you can quickly get to them to make your report?

Sudden Illness

Contingency plans also may be needed for sudden injury or illness. If you were incapacitated, who would handle your affairs, and how would that person gain access to your important documents? Would they have durable power of attorney to act on your behalf? By making these plans ahead of time, you ease the stress your loved ones must face.

Contingency Plans

And what if, while traveling out of town or overseas, you discover you need to sell your stock? Prepare for your trip by leaving a durable power of attorney and by giving a trusted person access to your stock certificates so that he or she can sell the stock for you in a timely manner. This way you avoid having to cut your trip short.  Also, in these troubling times of terrorism, a loved one might need your dental records in order to provide a positive identification of your remains; this might also be necessary in case of mechanical problems on an aircraft or structural failure of a building which results in your death.

Tax Records

Organizing your tax records not only makes tax preparation much easier, it also is essential in preparing for an audit. Supporting documents—such as bank statements, cancelled checks, credit card receipts and statements, and all other receipts and official information on income, losses, and deductions—should be available at all times. Consider going over this information with an accountant to explore possibilities for lowering your taxes in future years.

Get Organized

Your spouse and adult children—and any others who would need to handle your financial affairs—should know the location of all papers, contracts, documents, policies and other needed information. Each should know to whom to turn for advice in case of emergency.

The purpose of the forms that follow is to organize this information so that you, or others who might have to manage your affairs, know where to find all records and whom to contact, such as your lawyer, financial advisor, primary doctor, or dentist. It also can be used to create an effective filing system to manage your vital information. However, you might need additional or more comprehensive lists for credit cards and other items mentioned on our checklist. “Estate Planning: Your Records and Personal Information” is another Kentucky Cooperative Extension publication that you might use. You could develop your own list, or consult one of the many books created for this purpose. Such books are available from libraries, bookstores, Internet retailers, and office supply stores.

Ideally, you should keep a record of all significant purchases and property you own. Keep all Paid In Full statements for life, in case there is ever a question whether you have paid. A good way to keep records is to videotape each item as you buy it, speaking as you go about what the item is, its purchase date, how much you paid for it, whether there is an extended warranty, and what it is worth, and documentation of appraisal. This way you have an excellent record for insurance purposes and you increase your chances of recovering costs of lost, stolen, or damaged property. If the property is damaged or destroyed, you can also videotape it to show the extent of the damage.

Study the checklist with your spouse and others who need access to your personal information. We recommend using separate, “his and hers” checklists to account for all items. Analyze each point carefully and fill in your information. Consult the Location Code List to designate actual locations for all your original documents. For example, you might keep an original birth certificate in your safety deposit box and a copy in a portable fireproof box. Locations of originals and all copies should be noted on the list. Keep the list in a safe place known to your family.

Suggested Contents of Portable Fireproof Box

We recommend that you buy a portable fireproof box, if you don’t already have one; it should be large enough to hold files and a few valuables, but not so large that you can’t easily carry it out if you have a fire. Following are some of the items that you should keep in the box:

  • List of insurance policies and contact information
  • List of bank accounts and contact information
  • List of debt obligations, due dates, and contact information
  • Your family’s passports
  • List of doctors and contact information
  • List of medications, prescription numbers, and contact information of all pharmacies that you use
  • Copy of durable power of attorney, living wills, and healthcare proxies – Yours and all those of which you are attorney-in-fact or healthcare surrogate
  • Copy of each of your wills and all those of which you are the executor
  • Safety deposit box keys
  • List of investment, retirement, and bank accounts, with all contact information
  • Your original Social Security card (when you’re not using it)

Finally, you should keep this checklist in your portable fireproof box. As you can see, much of the information on the list above is already called for elsewhere in the checklist.  Keeping track of your vital information should be made as simple as possible. Don’t make it any harder than it has to be.

Again, keep the original checklist with your will so that your executor or personal representative has access to both. Give other copies of this checklist to individuals such as your lawyer or your close relatives who have copies of your important documents. Keep copies of documents such as wills and trust agreements in your portable fireproof box for easy access.

For Internet access to “Estate Planning: Your Records and Personal Information,” by Suzanne Badenhop (Kentucky Publication # FCS5-422), go to the following Web site:

For much more detailed inventory forms, go to the Household and Personal Property Inventory at the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service Web site:


This is a joint publication of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service and Virginia Cooperative Extension.

Prepared by Robert H. Flashman, Ph.D., Extension Specialist in Family Resource Management, University of Kentucky; Celia Ray Hayhoe, Ph.D., CFP™, Family Financial Management Extension Specialist, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University; and Alex Lesueur, Jr., M.S.L.S., Family & Consumer Sciences Extension, University of Kentucky. Edited by Alex Lesueur, Jr. and Elizabeth Noble, Editor for Educational Publishing, Agricultural Communications Services, University of Kentucky. Formatting assistance provided by Rick A. Hayes, Jr. and Chris Canjar, Technical Support, Agricultural Data Center, University of Kentucky.

We would like to thank the following reviewers:  Joann Bankston, Kansas State Extension Specialist; Alex White, Assistant Professor, Virginia Tech, Lou Gorr, Management, Housing, and Consumer Education Agent, Prince George County, Virginia; and Karen Culpepper, Management, Housing, and Consumer Education Agent, Page County, Virginia

Educational programs of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, or national origin.  Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, C. Oran Little, Director of Cooperative Extension Service, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Lexington, and Kentucky State University, Frankfort.  Copyright © 1999 for materials developed by the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service.  This publication may be reproduced in portions or its entirety for educational or nonprofit purposes only.  Permitted users shall give credit to the author(s) and include this copyright notice.  Publications are also available on the World Wide Web at


Important Names, Addresses, and Phone Numbers

List the important names, addresses, phone numbers, and account or policy numbers that may help survivors in dealing with your affairs. Be sure to list an entry for each person or place noted on Your Checklist of Important Documents.

LocationNameAddressPhone / FaxAccount / Policy Number
Attorney-In-Fact - Medical
(Health Care Proxy)
Attorney-In-Fact – Financial    
Auto Loan    
Bank A    
Bank B    
Bank C    
Credit Card    
Credit Card    
Credit Card    
Credit Contract/Loan    
Credit Contract/Loan    
Credit Contract/Loan    
Credit Union    
Current File Cabinets    
Permanent Records (Locations)    
Lawyer’s Office    
Safety Deposit Box    
Stock Broker / Financial Advisor    
Individual Possessions    
Relative A    
Relative B    
Relative C    
Friend A    
Friend B    
Primary Care Physician    
Executor / Executrix    
Funeral Home    
Insurance Agent A Type:    
Insurance Agent B Type:    
Insurance Agent C Type:    


Your Personal Checklist of Important Documents

Location Code
of Original
Code of Copy(s)
Appraisals of Personal Possessions1  
Appraisals of Real Property1  
Automobile Title1  
Automobile Registration9 (Car)  
Bank Statements—Current Year 2  
Bank Statements—Last 3 Years2  
Birth Certificates/Adoption Papers1  
Burial Plot Papers 1  
Charge Account Records 1  
Checkbook Records, Including Canceled Checks (for 3 years)2  
Credit Card Statements (for 3 years)2  
Debt Contracts (until expiration);
Payment in Full Notices (for life)
Deeds—Current Property/Closing Statements, Bills for Improvement1  
Deeds—Sold Property2  
Divorce Papers1  
Durable Power of AttorneyOriginal – 1, Copies – 3, 10, 11  
Educational Records/Diplomas/Transcripts2  
Employment Papers/Information2  
Funeral PlansOriginal – 2, Copy - 11  
Healthcare Power of AttorneyOriginal – 1, Copies – 5, 7,10,11  
Household Inventory List/Video1  
Insurance Papers—Medical2  
Insurance Papers—Long-term Care 2  
Insurance Papers—Home/Property2  
Insurance Papers—Automotive 2  
Insurance Papers—Liability (Umbrella Policy)2  
Insurance Papers—Life2  
Insurance Papers—Disability2  
Investment Records—Bonds Original – 4 or 1  
Investment Records—Stocks Original – 4 or 1  
Investment Records—Others 2  
Letter of Last InstructionsOriginal – 2, Copies – 6, 11  
List of Medications 5  
Living WillOriginal – 1, Copies – 2, 3, 7  
Marriage Certificates1  
Medical Records7  
Military/Discharge Papers 1  
Naturalization or Residency Papers1  
Power of AttorneyOriginal – 1, Copies – 2, 3, 11  
Prenuptial Agreements1  
Religious Records2  
Retirement/Pension Records 2  
Safety Deposit Box Location2  
Safety Deposit Box KeyOriginal – 10, Copy – 11  
Social Security CardOriginal 1, Copy – 10  
Tax Returns & Supporting Documents — Current Year2  
Tax Returns & Supporting Documents Previous 3 Years2  
Tax Returns & Supporting Documents – 3–6 Years Old2  
Trust DocumentsOriginal – 1, Copy – 2, 3, 9(trustee)  
Warranties, Guarantees 1  
WillsOriginal – 1, Copies – 2, 3, 11  

Location Code List

1 - Bank Safety Deposit Box
2 - Home File Cabinet (preferably fireproof)
3 - Lawyer’s Office
4 - Broker/Bank
5 - Carry With You at All Times
6 - Relatives/Friends
7 - Primary Doctor=s Office
8 - Funeral Home
9 - Other
10 - Portable Fireproof Box
11 - Executor/Executrix or Attorney-In-Fact


Virginia Cooperative Extension materials are available for public use, reprint, or citation without further permission, provided the use includes credit to the author and to Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, and Virginia State University.

Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Edwin J. Jones, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; M. Ray McKinnie, Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State University, Petersburg.

Publication Date

May 1, 2009