That’s the question that starts people worrying about the house, the car and the pricey computer. But another kind of physical asset that you should be protecting is the documentation that describes your ownership or right to use these valuable possessions.

Think about the deed to your house, mortgage documents or title to your car. For that matter, consider the chaos that would ensue if you lost your passport or if your survivors could not find your Will, insurance policies or bank records. Your assets would be lost as surely as they would have a burglar slipped out the back door with them.

Following are 4 tasks that you should ensure that you do to protect the documents that give you ownership (and may help you pass ownership) of your valuable physical assets.

Task #1 – Take an inventory of your important documents

And if you are keeping them in paper form, try to actually put your hands on them. Just because you think they’re in that drawer, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check. Each situation is different, but the kinds of documents you may want to protect could include:

  • Birth, adoption, marriage and divorce certificates;
  • Passport;
  • Will;
  • Enduring power of attorney and any advance healthcare directive;
  • Personal and home insurance policies;
  • Bank account and credit card details;
  • Details of mortgage and other debts;
  • Most recent tax return;
  • Superannuation and pension paperwork;
  • House deeds/lease documents;
  • Car title and registration details;
  • Investment documents (securities, share certificates, bonds);
  • Business holding details, including partnership and shareholder agreements;
  • Medical insurance details;
  • Centrelink customer access number and Department of Veterans’ Affairs details;
  • Pensioner concession card number;
  • Nominated beneficiaries for superannuation and pension;
  • Current contact information for a financial adviser, stockbroker, doctor, and anyone named in a power of attorney.

This review and collection process may point out some deficiencies, such as the lack of an enduring power of attorney or a binding death benefit nomination. Address that now.

Task #2 – Sober risk assessment

The balance between living in a bunker and blithe carelessness is a personal issue, but it may be helpful to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Is my home secure?
  2. How secure is the place where I store documents?
  3. How secure are my home and work computers? Who has access to them, and how is my password security?
  4. Am I comfortable using a cloud server to store my most valuable documents?
  5. What about a bank safety deposit box, a private secure storage facility or other off-site location?
  6. Should I invest in a home safe?

Fire and flood are certainly risks, as is the danger of theft, including cyber theft. Passports are more likely to be stolen when travelling than at home. But the biggest risk for most important documents, especially ones that are executed many years in advance of need like Wills, is that they simply get misplaced.

Task #3– The right solution for the right information

For rarely used documents, such as birth and marriage certificates, mortgage papers or partnership or shareholding agreements, a bank safety deposit box may be appropriate.

You may want readier access to your passport, medical insurance or Centrelink information, or to the electronic banking and credit passwords that you tend to forget. For this category of information, a home safe might be more appropriate. If you are concerned about someone cracking the safe, a conversation about locks and alarm systems may be in order.

Wills, powers of attorney and advance healthcare directives present unique issues of their own since someone else must, first of all, know they exist and secondly, have access to them in a timely manner. That can be difficult if they are stored in a bank safety deposit box.

Electronic security is a discrete problem, which should be addressed separately. But many believe that this is the future direction of asset protection, especially in the world of small businesses.

Task #4 – Judicious information sharing

Many experts recommend judiciously sharing information about the location of your important documents, and perhaps even copies of the documents themselves. Your executor should know where your Will is, as well as where to find information about the assets described in the Will. The same is true for anyone named in an enduring power of attorney or an advance healthcare directive. Some people choose to centralize this information with the attorney who prepared these documents, in which case, the other parties involved should know how to contact your attorney.  

All of these are very personal and individualized decisions. The attorneys at Owen Hodge Lawyers would like to help you find the right mix of solutions that will protect your physical assets. Call us to schedule a consultation at 1800 770 780.