Get financially prepared with these documents

A woman sits at a table looking over paper documents in front of a laptop
March 28, 2024 | Ben Heinze

Hope for the best but prepare for the worst. That oft-repeated phrase is certainly applicable when it comes to personal finance, but what does it take to become financially prepared? An easy-to-overlook part of staying on top of your financial affairs is creating and maintaining financial documents. Here are some documents you should consider having and how you can create or obtain them. As you’re going through this list, also consider loved ones in your life and if they are financially prepared with these documents as well.

List of all accounts and assets

Today, many of us have various accounts and assets across numerous financial institutions. Without diligently keeping track of your documents, something could easily slip through the cracks.

Keeping a list of all your accounts and assets is vital for multiple reasons. The first is for your reference, as it can be surprisingly easy to forget about an account you seldom use, especially if the amount of assets you have in it is low relative to your other accounts.

In the event something happens to you and you cannot access any accounts, having a list of your accounts in a secure place will allow a close family member or another beneficiary to have your account information and ensure nothing goes unaccounted for.


Although creating a will can be an uncomfortable topic to think about, it’s one of the most important financial documents to have. This is especially true if you have sizable assets or children. A formal will helps ensure your final wishes are carried out and provides protection for your family and property, and it can also name a guardian to care for your minor children.

Thankfully, creating a will can be easy and inexpensive if you don’t have a complicated estate. There are numerous online legal tools and software programs that can help walk you through the process, or you can contact an estate lawyer if your estate could be subject to estate tax. The most difficult part is identifying your financial wishes and deciding how you want to distribute your assets. Once your will is created, remember to review it every few years or after major life events to assess whether it continues to reflect your wishes.

Power of attorney

In the event where you are unable to make important decisions (including financial ones), having a power of attorney will allow for someone you trust to make those decisions on your behalf.

You are allowed to have more than one power-of-attorney, or you can divide the responsibilities among multiple powers of attorney. For example, a widower with two adult children could designate one of their adult children to be responsible for financial decisions and the other for medical decisions. Keep in mind that having multiple powers of attorney without designating specific responsibilities means they will need to unanimously agree for any decision to be made.

Like a will, there are numerous online resources that can walk you through the process of having this document created, or you can consult a relevant lawyer.

Tax documents

Taxes are associated with numerous documents, and while the exact documents you’ll need to prepare will vary based on your financial situation, it is a good habit to always securely store documents associated with your taxes. You may need to reference these documents to help with your taxes in future years or in the event of an audit.

Apart from your actual tax returns, it’s a good idea to save the supporting documents you use when filing your taxes. Common forms include a W-2, 1099, statements from financial institutions and receipts from donations to charitable organizations.

Insurance documents

Having easy access to your insurance documents will likely come in handy more than you might think. With the numerous types of insurance many people have today (car, home/renters, health, dental, vision, life, etc.), keeping track of your policies can become difficult. Being able to reference your policy to find out your exact coverage and policy information is an invaluable resource that will save a headache down the road.

Home and vehicle documents

In addition to documents related to your assets held at financial institutions (savings, checking, investments, etc.), make sure you know the location of any documents related to your home and vehicle.

For a house, this is the deed and mortgage documents, and for a car this is your title and registration. If you haven’t already gathered your home and car insurance documents, be sure you have those handy as well.

How to store financial documents

It’s important to know what financial documents to hang on to, but it’s equally important to store them properly. You want your financial documents to be easily accessible by you while also being well-protected against theft or damage.

For storing physical documents, a fire-proof safe at home is a simple yet effective option. Ideally, you should be able to easily grab it and carry it elsewhere in the event of an emergency. Knowing all your important documents are in one place will help you access them and keep them safe. However, it’s also a good idea to hide the safe somewhere where others couldn’t easily find and steal it.

Digital storage is a great option as well, especially since many documents are now delivered electronically by default. When going this route, be sure to create digital backups and use a strong password to protect your files.

Gathering and storing all these documents can be a tall task, but it’s one of the most important ways you can secure the future for you and your loved ones. Once you finish, remember to stay on top of adding additional documents and cleaning out old ones.

Having conversations with loved ones

Not only is it essential to gather and maintain your financial documents, but knowing your loved ones have also done so can avoid future hardships. While these can be difficult conversations, taking proactive steps is the way to go.

If you expect to be involved with your parents or other close loved ones’ finances in the event they pass away, start important financial conversations early. Unfortunately, many families wait to have these conversations until a health incident or death occurs, which can make handling financial affairs far more difficult. Having a kind and gentle conversation now will make things easier down the road.

When having these conversations, find out what accounts they have, if they have an up-to-date will and where their important financial documents are stored if someone needs to access them. Also, be sure your loved ones have set up beneficiaries in all their accounts. You don’t need to have all their detailed information at this time, but you should know what steps to take to get access if you need to.

Ensuring both you and your loved ones have their financial documents ready and accessible will make resolving potential financial matters in the future far easier. By doing so, you can be confident you’re financially prepared for any situation life throws your way.


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Ben Heinze is a marketing content specialist with a passion for financial education. Instilled with a strong sense of frugality from a young age, he views money as a means to building the life you want, rather than an end in itself. From reading Money Mentor, he hopes you discover new ways money can be used to build your ideal life—whatever that may look like.

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