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Blog: Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles
More VIPs--Very Important Papers Beyond The Top 10

You Paper Doll readers are fantastic! In addition to some comments right here at the site, last week's post Top 10 Vital Documents--Do You Know Where Your VIPs Are? wins the award for attracting the most email of the past two years. It's thrilling when so many of you are as excited as I am about to share your thoughts about organizing paper.

To recap, that post reviewed what I consider the Top 10 vital documents, or VIPs (Very Important Papers), that most people should (or may) have.  My list included:

  1. Birth Certificate
  2. Social Security Card
  3. Marriage Certificate
  4. Divorce Decree
  5. Military Separation/Discharge Papers and Other Military Records
  6. Death Certificate
  7. Durable Power of Attorney for Finances
  8. Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare
  9. Living Will or Advanced Medical Directive
  10. Passport
In the post, I reviewed where to safeguard these documents and how to obtain replacements, if necessary.

This was not an arbitrary list, but neither was it complete.  I selected documents that every person (or in the case of #2, every American citizen) should have as a by-product of living in this modern world, as well as a few documents (#s 7-10) that I felt every adult should have or acquire.  In every case except for the passport, the documents could be very inexpensively procured if a replacement were necessary, and in all cases, the documents either were supplied by a governmental agency (#s 1-6, 10) or could be created by the individual (#s 7-10) with a little help from witnesses and notaries.  Paper Doll is frugal, so my Top 10 list were generally low-expense items.

The limitations on the number of characters we can use in our www.OnlineOrganizing.com blogs (where each letter of HTML code counts towards our limit) also dictated which items made the top 10.  Easily-explained items that I anticipated everyone should (or might) have hit the big time because I didn't have to spend precious characters with too much explanation.  However, there were definitely other VIPs and documents that didn't make the list, but deserve to be reviewed.

Where There's a Will, There's a Way

Blogger extraordinaire Jeri Dansky quite rightly noted the importance of a will. As a professional organizer, whenever I meet with new residential clients, especially young families, there's a short list of must-haves I inquire about before we even proceed through the house. I ask:
  • Do you have a fire extinguisher in the house?  Where is it?  (Does everyone in the house know how/when use it? Have you checked it recently to make sure the gauges reflect that it's safe and ready for use?)
  • Do you have an escape plan in case of fire/natural disaster and an emergency contact plan in case your family members are separated during a disaster or civil defense event?
  • Do you have a will? (Does it include all of the children in the family and reasonably reflect current assets?  Are the listed spouse, prospective guardians and listed beneficiaries up-to-date?))
A will is an essential document for any responsible adult to have.  It was not left off the Top 10 list because of its lack of importance, but rather because it deserves a post all its own. Too often, people believe that wills are only for those with substantial assets, or they assume that any possessions or assets they have will automatically go to their spouses or children. In fact, if one dies intestate (i.e., without a will), state law can determine who gets your property (everything from your Elvis Presley record collection to actual real estate) and who will raise your children (and where, and how).

Wills can be created without the input (and therefore, expense) of an attorney, but the complexities (and possible cost) of creating a will made it much too involved to discuss as one-tenth of a blog post. Be assured that there will be an upcoming layman's discussion of wills in a future Paper Doll post.

Trust Me!

In the financial and legal realm, any discussion of documents might raise the point that where there's a will, there's a living trust, designed to create a smooth transition for the estate.  (And no, we're not talking about a Dynasty-sized estate, ready for Krystal and Alexis to do battle in the koi pond, but merely all of the property and "stuff" a typical person owns.) If the average person worries that creating a will might be troublesome, it's nothing compared to the confusion that often surrounds creating a living trust. Again, this is an important topic, and one deserving a post of its own.

For the record, the main advantage of creating a living trust, is that property left to, or sequestered in, the trust doesn't have to go through through probate court. Basically, probate is a court-supervised process of verifying the validity of a will, paying the estate's debts and distributing any property to the people who should inherit it.  The probate process can drag on months, during which time attorney and court fees can diminish the value of an estate. Trusts can also help you reduce estate tax and set up procedures for the long-term handling of real property and assets.  So, establishing a living trust saves you time and money, but it can also be confusing to establish--this is one of those times D-I-Y might not be the best option.

Oy, Vey!

Wills and trusts weren't the only very important papers left off the list. Canadian professional organizer Jacki Hollywood Brown came up with multiple documents that might have made the list. For example, Jacki mentioned Certificates of Baptism, provision of which may be necessary in order to register to marry in certain faiths or attend certain religious schools. While Jackie's point is excellent, it sure does open up a can of (sanctified) worms that would not have fit in that post.

Unlike government-sanctioned documents, there is no central clearinghouse or method for obtaining religious documents, nor did I wish to get into the sticky wicket of accidentally leaving out a document that might be a central article of someone's faith.  In Judaism, for example, a Ketuba is a marriage document, and a Get is a divorce decree. Then there are Islamic marriage contracts and Talaq, or divorce decrees.  Let's not forget baby naming and dedication records, certificates of Christening and First Communion, documents of Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and confirmations and so on.  Even if we limited our review to religions with more than a few million practitioners, that's a lot of VIP possibilities!  (Paper Doll suddenly feels the need to hire a research intern!)

Loathe as I am to inadvertently offend any readers, I offer the following woefully inadequate advice regarding religious documentations:
  • If you already possess your religious VIPs, treat them as you would any important memorabilia by maintaining them in archival-quality, acid-free, lignin-free envelopes and safeguard them in your safe deposit box or fireproof safe. 
  • If you need to replace a religious document has been lost or damaged, contact the office manager of the house of worship that granted the initial document. If he or she is unable to help you, your spiritual leader should be able to provide strategic guidance.
"People who live in glass houses should take out insurance."

Other vital documents were also left off the list because their importance necessitates more detailed and textured discussion. Insurance, for example, requires the one-time or (more likely) on-going purchase of coverage from a profit-oriented organization.

Whereas all of the original Top 10 VIPs I covered could be acquired from a governmental body or created/replaced on one's own, insurance policies are contractual documents between for-profit insurance companies and the purchaser, and there is no standardization of costs for coverage. (On the plus side, your insurance company should be able to provide you with a replacement copy of your policy at no, or at least minimal, cost, upon request.)

At the bare minimum, most Paper Doll readers will at least need to consider the importance of acquiring:
  • Health Insurance
  • Life Insurance
  • Homeowner's or Renter's Insurance
  • Disability Insurance
  • Auto Insurance
Beyond that, we can behold a ridiculous variety of insurance policies that the experts agree are unnecessary, as well as policies specific to people in special circumstances.  (Don't own a yacht? Skip the yacht insurance!) Given that this whole category includes prices that vary, a profit motive, and person/family/circumstance-specific variables, insurance policies didn't make the list, either.

Huddled Masses Yearning To Breath Free

Multiple readers, including Jacki, wrote in to ask about immigration and citizenship papers. Again, while the Top 10 list was designed to cover the needs of just about everyone, and a smaller subset of readers would have immigration documents vs. marriage decrees or birth certificates.  However, immigration papers are just as essential to safeguard. The problem comes in trying to review replacement of all possible documents, or even the most vital. 

As ironic as it is that a process for getting green cards requires so much red tape (and can make you sing the blues), immigration paperwork can be a boondoggle. For example, to replace a lost or damaged Certificate of Naturalization (i.e., citizenship), you have to fill out a Form N-565. The problem is, when you navigate the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services page to the link for the N-565, you eventually get an error "404 - Requested Page Not Found on Site. The page you requested...is not on our site."  After much fruitless searching on the site, a quick Googling found the N-565 form here. 

Also, if you use the USCIS page's search function to find out how to replace a Permanent Resident Card (i.e., green card), you also get an Error 404 message.  Grumble, grumble. But don't worry, we eventually found the Application To Replace A Permanent Resident Card, or I-90, here.)  The number and variety of such documents needed, from initial applications through validated citizenship, are vast, and thus another category did not make the Top 10.

Everything Else...

Of course, there are also the VIPs we've discussed previously, including mortgage documents and titles for property and vehicles, which generally belong in your Family File system's legal section.  (Be assured, if the fact that your mortgage paperwork is legal-sized while all of your other documents, and indeed, your filing cabinet, are letter-sized, you are among a grand majority annoyed by the situation.)

The number of VIPs we could have reviewed is lengthy.  Paper Doll might have discussed replacing damaged or lost documentary proof regarding Medicare cards or state-issued  WIC (Women Infants and Children) supplemental nutrition Smart Cards/checks.  Along with the military records, we might've reviewed how to get copies of Civilian governmental personnel records.  And at least some of you must be curious about seeing your own FBI file.

Wow, that's a lot of VIPs, and we've only touched the surface!  Perhaps we need a Paper Doll television program (a mini-series, even!) to count down the Top 100 Very Important Papers?  Until then, keep those cards and letters coming, and please let me know what other paper issues you'd like to see discussed.

posted on: 7/28/2009 10:30:00 AM by Julie Bestry
category: Paper

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Discuss This Post

by Jacki Hollywood Brown on 7/28/2009 3:01:04 PM:

More great VIPs! Good tips! Thanks for the link! I completely understand about not going into detail about the religious docs on the previous post. There are so many different docs for different faiths!

by Janet Barclay on 7/30/2009 11:51:46 AM:

I love your knack for presenting a serious topic in a light-hearted way! Regarding renter's insurance, we had a major rainstorm here in Hamilton last Sunday, and many people experienced flood damage. Being on the 7th floor, we were exempted, but I heard lots of horror stories, including one about a young man who had just moved away from his parents to a basement apartment on Thursday and was planning to arrange for insurance on Monday, and lost nearly everything. I guess he learned the hard way that buying insurance is something that needs to be done sooner, rather than later!

by Julie Bestry (Paper Doll) on 7/30/2009 2:15:33 PM:

Thanks, Janet--"silly" is the secret ingredient to staying young. Re: renter's insurance, I'm appalled at the number of people who don't get it before they move. Renter's insurance is so inexpensive--mine is less than 50 cents a day--and the number and variety of things that can go wrong in a rental space can be shocking!

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Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles

by Julie Bestry

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